Recent Chat Activity (Main Lobby)
Join Chat

Loading Chat Log...

Prefer not to see ads? Become a Community Supporter.
View RSS Feed

Max_Writer

Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: Lurkers in the Swamp

Rate this Entry
Monday, January 5, 2015

(After playing the Cadillacs and Dinosaurs introductory scenario “Lurkers in the Swamp” Sunday from noon until 5:30 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Logan Scott, and Bo Lewis.)

In the late 20th and early 21st century, a series of cataclysms struck the Earth. Volcanoes began to erupt everywhere. Earthquakes and tsunamis became common. The poles started to melt and the water levels of the world began to rise dramatically. Soon, shelters were built in geographically stable areas of the world’s crust. They were made to be self-sustaining in the hopes that they would last long enough to save some number of mankind.

When the cataclysm struck, many of the bunkers were destroyed. Those within stayed for as long as they could but, after some 450 years, even the self-sustaining bunkers could no longer support life. Those who had kept the shelters working, the old-blood mechanics, had only done so by formalizing a code of living called the Machinatio Vitae (the Machinery of Life). The basis of the code was an acceptance of humanity’s place as one element of a balanced ecosystem no more or less important than any others.

When mankind returned to the surface from his various bunkers, the world had gone mad. Man had expected alterations in the geology and climate, but not what had happened to the ecosystem. Plant and animal life from every geologic age of the earth were simultaneously present on the surface. Dinosaurs and mammoths had reappeared.

One tribe found a great city of towers partially sunken in the sea, and fortified that place, finding safe shelter from the terrible beasts that now roamed the earth. After 100 years, the tribe in the City in the Sea had established farms on the mainland to feed their increasing numbers, mines in the nearby mountains, a nearby fortress garage where the old blood mechanic Jack Tenrec lived, and even far-flung research stations to monitor the environment and detect any potential changes.

Recently, another tribe, the Wassoon, from a swamp to the south, had sent a representative to open up diplomatic relations with the City in the Sea: Hannah Dundee.

It was a harsh world where survival was not easy.

* * *

Three men had been summoned by Governor Nock of the City in the Sea for a special mission.

Bartholomew Riggins was a farmer who in charge of many of the farms west of the city. Some people said he was the greatest farming mind of the generation. He was 24 years old, very fit, and a genius, especially at farming. He wore a flannel shirt and jeans as well as a straw hat. He was clean shaven and kept his hair cut short. He had a stock dog who was 13 years old named Krispy Kreme. He preferred a pump action shotgun to defend himself.

Soggy Beard was a well-respected sailor and fisherman who was 33 years old. Captain of the fishing boat S.S. Shanty, he worked with a single crewman, an orphan boy he called Stinky Pete, though he was not sure if that was the boy’s real name. He was extremely bronzed from his years on the sea and was charismatic and quick. He was short and always seemed to be sweating and his clothing was dingy. He wore a red bandanna on his head and had a thick beard.

Yung Ricky was a criminal who specialized in mugging people in the City in the Sea. His crimes had finally caught up to him, but Governor Nock was giving the 30-year-old rogue a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the city … and not be banished for his crimes. He was average looking with dark hair and a constant 5 o’clock shadow. He wore shorts and a white tank top. He had been told his past crimes would be forgotten and his .44 magnum returned when he went on the mission Governor Nock had planned for them.

Governor Nock was a large, bald man with a pencil-thin mustache and a deep voice. He told them he had a mission for them that would pay several hundred credits with the City in the Sea, if they did it successfully.

“Several hundred credits?” Soggy Beard said.

“Yes,” Governor Nock said.

“Wowee-boy!” Riggins said as he slapped his knee.

“We’re in communication with the outlying research stations by means of long-range radio, although contact is unreliable and irregular due to the atmospheric conditions and sunspot activity,” Governor Nock told them. “There’s also a supply trip that goes to each of the stations quarterly. The last one didn’t arrive at the station to the south of here. We need someone to be in charge of another mission.”

He turned to Riggins.

“You’ve been very impressive at the farms,” he said to the man.

“Okay,” Riggins said.

“You get along well with people,” Governor Nock said, indicating Soggy Beard. He turned to Yung Ricky. “He’s got to work off some time for the city.”

“Who’s that?” Riggins asked, pointing at Yung Ricky.

“What you guys get busted for?” Yung Ricky said.

“This is Yung Ricky,” Governor Nock said.

“I’m Yung,” Yung Ricky said.

“Soggy Beard,” Governor Nock said, introducing the other two men. “Bartholomew Riggins.”

“Soggy Beard!” Yung Ricky said mockingly.

“Pleasure to meet you,” Soggy Beard said.

“Nice,” Riggins said.

“There’s also been a report that one of the scientists has gone missing in the swamp down there,” Governor Nock went on.

He showed them the map of the region, pointing out where the research station was located in the northern reaches of the swamp south of the City in the Sea and north of the Wassoon tribe.

“That’s a long ways away,” Riggins said.

“I’m not going,” Yung Ricky said.

“Yeah, you’re going,” Governor Nock said to Yung Ricky.

“Is there a river that goes there?” Soggy Beard asked.

“Shallows go all the way to the research station,” Governor Nock said. “It’s actually built up in the trees because we couldn’t get anything else that would last there. So, your mission is to resupply the research station so the scientists can continue their work, transport a replacement biologist to the station …”

He pointed to a woman standing nearby with long, dark hair.

“… Dr. Stroink,” Governor Nock went on.

“Yes, a woman!” Yung Ricky said.

“You’re to take Dr. Stroink, here,” Governor Nock went on, ignoring him. “She’s the replacement biologist for the person that’s missing. Attempt to determine the fate of the previous supply expedition which disappeared, and attempt to determine the fate of the missing biologist. Those are the things we would like you to do if you can. The original supply mission was carried by one of the city’s feluccas to the mouth of the Aswad Assif River. The supplies are then loaded into small boats and then taken upstream to the station. The water in the delta is too shallow for the felucca or a bigger ship.

“You’ll be carried by felucca to the same point as the original expedition and dropped off. Since there are only, including Dr. Stroink, four of you, I’m going to get four laborers to fill out positions and to help you to deliver the supplies. Normally, we would just load up 15 small boats with the 2,400 kilograms of supplies. What we’re going to do is we’re going to have eight boats. Four of the boats will have 200 kilograms of supplies and two people, two rowers, and they’ll be pulling another boat with 400 more kilograms of supplies.”

“Can I bring my boat?” Soggy Beard asked.

“You have a fishing boat, don’t you?” Governor Nock asked.

“Uh-huh,” Soggy Beard said. “Fishing boat.”

“I think the captain of the felucca wants to go out to sea where he won’t have to worry about rocks and such,” Governor Nock said. “I don’t think your fishing boat will be able to keep up.”

“Can I bring my dog?” Riggins asked.

“If you want,” Governor Nock said.

“All right,” Riggins said. “C’mon Krispy Kreme.”

Krispy Kreme was asleep, again, on a cool spot on the stone floor.

“Can I get my gun and that guy’s wallet back before we go?” Yung Ricky asked.

“Not the wallet,” Governor Nock said. “When you’ve reached the station and made the delivery, you should investigate the disappearance. Once you’ve determined the cause, return to the city to report. You won’t have all the boats anymore. You can take some of the boats from the research station north until you get to land or you can go through the swamp, either way, until you return to the City in the Sea. The felucca’s not going to wait. He’s got to make another supply drop to the northern research station and we don’t know how long it’s going to take you to find out what’s going on down there.

“Do you have any questions?”

“Well, I guess I’ll go,” Riggins said.

Governor Nock also noted that if they needed weaponry or ammunition, it would be made available to them. All of them got more ammunition for their weapons, including slugs for Riggins’ shotgun. Soggy Beard got a .38 special pistol and a bayonet. Yung Ricky got a machete as well.

* * *

When they met with the captain of the felucca, he told them he wanted to leave at dusk. They got their gear on board the sailing ship, Riggins making sure to get Krispy Kreme safely aboard, and the ship left the City in the Sea that evening heading southeast out to sea. They knew that the plan was for the felucca to head southeast to start, then change to a southwesterly course before heading due west to the river mouth.

It was in the middle of the night when an alarm cry went up. An animal was off the bow of the felucca.

“Fish!” Soggy Beard yelled as he ran up for the deck.

The creature turned out to be an octopus about twice the size of a man. Safely on the felucca, they realized that they would be able to easily stay clear of the thing.

“That’s good eatin’,” Soggy Beard said.

He started looking for nets to try to catch the animal with. However, they had nothing that he could really use. He thought about jumping into the water and going after the octopus.

“Lower the anchor, boys, I’m going fishing!” he called.

“No, no, no,” the captain said. “That’s not going to happen. We’re out in deep water. There’s awful things out here.”

“I can swim!” Soggy Beard said.

“I don’t care!” the captain replied. “When the sharks come up, or a thresher!”

“Octopus stew!” Soggy Beard said.

“We’re not stopping,” the captain replied. “Go back to bed.”

“All right,” Soggy Beard said. “Your loss. You never had my octopus stew.”

“Well, maybe I will someday.”

“Yeah yeah.”

“Not this trip.”

They went back to their bunks.

Another alert went up in the early morning hours and the three men joined the crew on deck once more. This time it was a thresher, a huge marine predator 50 to 100 feet long.

“That’s probably good eatin’ too,” Soggy Beard said.

The crew got guns and weapons ready but the animal didn’t approach. Soggy Beard knew that his own boat was small enough for threshers to attack and destroy. He’d had to retreat back to the shallows around the City in the Sea several times before.

* * *

The next morning found the felucca dropping anchor in the bay at the mouth of the Aswad Assif River. It took most of the morning to load up the eight boats with the cargo and gear. They were heading upstream by noon and decided to follow a northerly route along the shoreline of the river, delta, and swamp. Yung Ricky had felt like the last group had gone north and had suggested it in order to find them. Everyone else agreed.

Soggy Beard licked his finger and held it up.

“North,” he declared.

It didn’t feel like there was any wind to Yung Ricky.

As they rowed into the swamp, Soggy Beard tossed a line into the water in the hopes of catching some fish. His own boat led. Following him were Riggins and Dr. Stroink in the next boat. Yung Ricky and a laborer followed him, and two laborers rowed the last boat. Each of their boats pulled another, heavily laden boat.

Several hours later, Soggy Beard saw something coming towards them through the water.

“Hark!” he yelled, pointing starboard of his boat.

“What do you see, Soggy Beard?” Riggins called.

“Aye!” Soggy Beard said. “There be something in the waters!”

About 200 meters away was a sea skrank, an enlarged water scorpion. The thing was probably 12 feet long and heading right for their boats. They were known to have massive claws and a stinger on the tail that could incapacitate a man.

“That be a sea skrank, my laddies!” Soggy Beard called.

“What’s a sea skrank?” Yung Ricky called.

“It’s a … giant crawfish,” Soggy Beard said.

Riggins pumped his shotgun.

“That’s good eatin’ boys!” Soggy Beard called.

“Are sea kranks dangerous?” Riggins called.

“Nah, they’re good eatin’ though,” Soggy Beard yelled. “Watch out for that tail, boys! Poisonous!”

Riggins looked down at Krispy Kreme, who slept in the bottom of the boat. He hoped the dog hadn’t died.

“What do we do, Soggy Beard?” he called.

“Shoot its eyes!” Soggy Beard yelled back. “Watch out for that tail!”

Yung Ricky aimed at the skrank, as did Riggins and Soggy Beard. It was still over 100 meters away and none of them wanted to waste the ammunition.

“Hey, Stroink, what do we do about that thing?” Yung Ricky called.

“Kill it!” she replied.

“Oh God!” Yung Ricky said.

“Or run!” Dr. Stroink called.

“I wanna eat it!” Soggy Beard said.

“Dive in, Soggy Beard!” Yung Ricky called.

“Let’s get out of here!” one of the laborers called.

“Can we leave?” another called.

“We got this, boys!” Soggy Beard yelled.

“Can we?” Yung Ricky said.

He turned to the man in the back of his boat.

“Pull us up behind that next boat!” he hissed at the man.

The laborer started to try rowing the boat forward but didn’t make any progress.

“Faster, you idiot,” Yung Ricky hissed.

He aimed at the sea skrank with his big magnum pistol.

On his own boat, Soggy Beard, pistol in hand, took out his bayonet with his left hand.

“We should row faster,” Riggins said to Dr. Stroink.

He put his shotgun down and took up an oar, as did she.

Yung Ricky’s magnum roared and the water splashed very close to the sea skrank.

“Dammit Soggy Beard!” he yelled. “You threw off my aim!”

“What are you doing back there!?!” Riggins called.

He and Stroink were having trouble getting their boat moving forward again.

Yung Ricky aimed again, as did Soggy Beard. The magnum roared again. The blast struck the skrank in the head and it turned belly up and thrashed for a few moments before it went still.

“Stop, Yung Ricky!” Riggins yelled.

“He said it’s good eatin’,” Yung Ricky said.

“He wanted to attack a thresher with a knife!”

“Hey, he’s a sailor. He might know how to do it.”

Soggy Beard remembered that sea skranks were inedible but he still leapt from his boat into the water and swam to the dead thing. He cut off one of the pincers.

“Yo, get me a prize while you’re down there,” Yung Ricky called as he reloaded his magnum.

Soggy Beard hacked off the tail of the beast as well and then swam back to the boats as Yung Ricky took out the bottle of whiskey he’d brought along and took a swallow. Soggy Beard had no trouble getting back into his boat.

“Where’s my prize?” Yung Ricky called to him.

“Get your own prize,” Soggy Beard replied.

“I’ll get it from you when we land!” Yung Ricky called.

They continued moving through the swamp until nightfall, when they found a dry place to make camp.

“Who wants to spoon with Soggy Beard?” Soggy Beard asked.

“No,” Dr. Stroink said.

He pointed out that she should probably sleep next to him for safety. Yung Ricky also noted that he could protect her as he did earlier against the sea skrank. She snubbed both of them, noting that they should all keep in mind the situation at hand: being out in a dangerous swamp.

Soggy Beard made a fire and cooked the sea skrank claw as they talked about setting watches. The stink of the cooked meat of the horrible creature stank up the entire area. Soggy Beard ate some of it and found it disgusting. He thought he remembered enjoying sea skrank as a child; maybe his parents had lied about what they had fed him. Yung Ricky took a swig of his whiskey and then lay down to sleep.

“Can I wash some of the taste away from my mouth, man?” Soggy Beard asked the man. “Can I have a little shot of that whiskey?”

“Where’s my trophy?” Yung Ricky asked.

“He ate it,” Riggins said.

“I ate it, man,” Soggy Beard said. “I’m sorry. I’ve still got a little bit left.”

“So, you eat my trophy and then you come asking for my alcohol to wash it down?” Yung Ricky said.

“Yeah,” Soggy Beard said. “Please.”

“Immediately after hitting on my girl,” Yung Ricky said.

“Yeah, can I have a shot of that?” Soggy Beard said again.

Yung Ricky looked at him.

“Yeah, what the hell,” he finally said. “Shots all around.”

He allowed Dr. Stroink, Riggins, and Soggy Beard all to take a drink and he took another.

They set watches as Yung Ricky lay down in his sleeping bag and went to sleep.

Soggy Beard took the first watch as the rest settled down to sleep. While he was on watch, he fiddled with the barb from the tail, trying to make a club with the barb set on the end. While he worked, he didn’t keep as good a watch as he could.

He did notice two large, dark shapes float by in the water. They were roughly 20 feet long but looked like logs. Not wanting to take a chance, he lowered himself to the ground and watched them float by. He crawled forward, nearer to the water, to observe them more closely. He guessed they were just logs, however, so went back to the little fire and settled back down.

He woke up a laborer when he got tired, telling him about the logs he’d seen. That laborer woke up Riggins and told him that Soggy Beard had seen some logs float by as well. However, he had not seen anything himself.

Riggins climbed a tree and turned on his IR goggles. He spotted the “logs” on his infrared about 40 meters away and realized they were registering a different temperature than the surrounding water, though not by much. He recognized them as crocs. They floated out in the water some ways from the camp.

Dr. Stroink took the fourth watch, taking Riggins’ IR goggles and his shotgun. The laborers watched throughout the rest of the night, all of them alerted to the croc.

* * *

They broke camp the next morning.

“Those logs you saw last night were crocs,” Riggins told Soggy Beard.

“Croc?” Soggy Beard said.

“Yeah.”

“That’s uh … that’s good eatin’. They still out there?”

“I don’t think so.”

They set off west again.

Some two hours later, Soggy Beard spotted a submerged log that could have damaged his boat. He warned the rest of them about it.

“Hark!” he called. “There’s something in the water over here!”

“More logs?” Yung Ricky called.

“Yeah,” Soggy Beard called back.

After a couple more hours, they spotted circling vultures and zekes flying overhead ahead. Zekes were small, flying dinosaurs and scavengers, and numbers of them could be found near seashores and carrion on dry land.

“Them zekes are good eating,” Soggy Beard said.

In fact, the City in the Sea had a rookery of zekes atop one of the buildings. It turned out that when threshers came in, the zekes would instinctively retreat to their lairs and it made a great early warning system for the fishermen. If the zekes circled above or around their boats, they were safe. If the zekes retreated to the city, they knew to turn their boats to shallower waters to avoid the inevitable thresher that was probably stalking them.

He had a certain fondness for the animals.

The smell started to get worse and they could smell something rotten that was even worse than the smell they had been getting used to.

“Yes!” Yung Ricky said. “We found the lost expedition.”

They soon found the body of a sambuk, a large quadruped dinosaur, an herbivore that was native to forests, jungles, prairies, and swamps. The massive creatures had small heads at the end of long necks for grazing the leafy trees. That neck was balanced by an equally long tail and they ranged up to 100 feet in length and up to 150 tons in weight. In this case, all that was left of the animal was a rotten corpse.

“This was probably killed by the lost expedition,” Yung Ricky said.

The body lay partially in the water and partially on land. They pulled the boats up and examined it, Yung Ricky suggesting they look for bullet wounds. Soggy Beard got out of his boat and started to examine the ground around the animal for tracks. Riggins helped him.

The animal had been gutted and several internal organs had been removed. There were also several spent bullets in the head. Yung Ricky dug several out and found that they were high-caliber rifle bullets. Though it was impossible to determine the exact caliber, he realized they were very heavy, the sort of large-caliber slugs fired from an expensive Express rifle. It was obviously the work of poachers.

Soggy Beard hadn’t found any tracks that were suspicious. There were only animal prints and he guessed that several smaller animals ganged up and attacked the sambuk.

“I’m thinking a bunch of squirrels and antelopes, a couple logs, may have ambushed this thing,” Soggy Beard told them.

“There’s bullet holes in it!” Riggins said.

“Here’s some bullets that were in it,” Yung Ricky said.

“Oh … um … they must be some intelligent squirrels,” Soggy Beard waffled. “And they must have bullets for teeth.”

They all gaped at him. Dr. Stroink shook her head.

“I think you might be wrong, Soggy Beard,” Riggins said. “Like you’ve been wrong about everything so far.”

Soggy Beard looked at Riggins.

“My time to shine will come,” he said. “Then y’all will see.”

They continued on through the swamp and reached the research station around noon.

“Hark!” Soggy Beard called when he saw it.

It was a series of tree houses that were connected together with rope bridges. At least five structures were built up in massive trees some eight meters above the ground. Two rope ladders and several ropes hung down from the structure, which was made of wood with thatched roofs. Wide windows allowed plenty of light and air into the place and somewhere nearby a small generator rumbled.

People climbed down out of the place as they approached. One of them was a balding man with glasses who wore a white doctor’s jacket.

“Welcome! Welcome!” he called. “I’m the station chief, Dr. Apollo Caduceus. I’m also the medical officer. Thank God you got here. We need these supplies desperately.”

“Oh yeah, the supplies!” Yung Ricky said.

More of the station personnel came out to help. There were eight people total in the place. They helped the laborers, Soggy Beard, Riggins, and Stroink unload the boats and winch the things up to the research base. Yung Ricky moved to Dr. Caduceus as the man helped move items from the boats to the base of the trees. At first, he just walked by Dr. Caduceus, but after they returned to the boats, the man handed him some things to carry. As soon as he turned his back, Yung Ricky put the items down again.

“Hey, that last expedition ever make it?” Yung Ricky asked him.

“No no, we never saw them,” Dr. Caduceus said. “They were supposed to get here over a month ago.”

“Huh.”

“I’m glad you made it! Thanks very much for braving the dangers and taking the risks to get these supplies to us.”

“Yeah, man. They’re kind of heavy though.”

Right before he got to the tree, he took a load from one of the laborers so that when Dr. Caduceus turned around, he had something in his hands.

“He’s a criminal,” Riggins said, pointing at Yung Ricky.

“Who said that?” Yung Ricky said.

Soggy Beard asked about food and Dr. Caduceus told him that once everything was unpacked, they would have some dinner.

It took several hours to get everything from the boats. Dr. Stroink then introduced herself to Dr. Caduceus as the new biologist for the station. The laborers prepared the boats for return and planned to leave the next morning. Two boats were left for the three men who were staying there and they noticed that there were several boats on the shore near the station as well.

At dinner, Riggins professed his love for Dr. Stroink.

“Ma’am, have I got some words to tell you,” he said, taking off his straw hat and putting it over his heart. “You’re the most beautiful girl I ever saw, and this trip has shown me that you’re the one.”

“Well, you’ve proven yourself capable,” she said to him. “Good job.”

He walked off happy until he realized she was brushing him off with a simple compliment, not to embarrass him in front of the others.

Soggy Beard talked to some of the scientists and learned that they were monitoring the environment for any potential change and studying the migratory patterns of animals, among other things. They learned that there were two assistant biologists on the station: John Lorch and Tanya Covington. The staff geologist was Dr. Bruce Johnson. The staff chemist was Dr. Sara Schramm. Her assistant was Cliff Snyder. The staff meteorologist was Rollie Sponberg and the technician and radio operator was Tom Thrawl.

“Why did we find a shot sambuk over there?” Riggins asked.

“It wasn’t shot, it ambushed by forest creatures,” Soggy Beard said.

“He found bullets!” Riggins said.

“Oh yeah, do you recognize these bullets?” Yung Ricky asked, taking out the slugs he’d found.

The base personnel looked at the slugs and noted that the station had a few Mauser rifles, but not of high caliber as the bullets were.

“It was pretty close to your station,” Riggins said.

“It sounds like poachers then,” Yung Ricky said.

“I mean, those critters are getting smart,” Soggy Beard said. “And resourceful.”

“Well, we haven’t seen any sign of poachers,” Dr. Caduceus said. “I haven’t at least.”

“What have you seen signs of … doctor?” Yung Ricky asked.

“Nothing,” Dr. Caduceus said.

He started to talk about the migratory habits of some of the larger animals in the swamp. Yung Ricky poured himself a shot of whiskey. Meanwhile, Soggy Beard had taken out the sea skrank tail and was trying to lace his bayonet with poison. Yung Ricky, noting that the man had opened up the poison sack, said that the barb was his trophy. Soggy Beard was happy to give it to him.

“Now you’ve earned that shot I gave you … last time,” Yung Ricky told him.

“We were told we were going to get supplies when we got here to look for the other expedition,” Riggins said.

“I didn’t receive any information that you were to get any supplies,” Dr. Caduceus said. “You’re allowed to stay here as long as you wish, though I thought you would go back with the laborers.”

They discussed how long they would stay and were given quarters in one of the connecting tree houses. Soggy Beard was ready to get back to the City in the Sea, worried that Stinky Pete would make a mess of his boat and his business. Yung Ricky was of the opinion that they should stay a week or so.

* * *

The laborers left early with most of the boats the next morning.

“Well, you’ve delivered Dr. Stroink so … you don’t NEED to stay,” Dr. Caduceus said to them as the laborers headed off. “But you’re welcome to stay.”

“I say we stay a couple of days at least,” Riggins said. “I mean … we just got out of the jungle.”

“Maybe,” Soggy Beard said. “I guess I could do some fishing in the swamp.”

They discussed what to do next and decided to head out into the swamp after breakfast. They decided to take two boats on the southern route back to the shore in search of the first expedition. Soggy Beard and Yung Ricky were in one boat and Riggins and Krispy Kreme were in the other. They followed the south shore back to the coast.

At one point, they spotted three widgets nearby. The tiny dinosaurs were omnivorous and probably weighed only a pound or two at the most. They were each 12 to 18 inches in length.

Finally, something I’m not scared of, Yung Ricky thought.

“Boys, those are good eatin’,” Soggy Beard called to them.

However, they knew the animals didn’t have enough meat on them to actually satisfy anyone. They passed by the widgets without molesting them. They spotted another group of five of the animals before it got dark. When the boats got near, they disappeared into the water. That creeped out Yung Ricky.

Before dark, they found what they had been looking for.

Approximately 10 kilometers southeast of the station was a small tributary that emptied into the main estuary of the Aswad Assif. Near the mouth of it, Soggy Beard saw several sunken boats.

“Hark!” he called. “I see some boats, boys!”

“That might be the supply expedition,” Riggins said.

“It could be,” Soggy Beard agreed.

They paddled closer and they saw the hulls of over a dozen sunken rowboats, one or two of them visible by the banks. There were also a few torn-open supply bundles. They began looking over the shattered boats but realized they would probably have to wait until morning to make a detailed examination of the wrecks. They did find a few skeletal remains of people, no doubt members of the previous expedition, though scavengers had reduced them to little more than scattered bones. Soggy Beard looked for tracks while Yung Ricky scrounged for anything of value.

As it got dark, Yung Ricky set up his sleeping bag.

“I think I’m gonna do some hunting,” Soggy Beard said. “I’m hungry.”

“It’s hunting time,” Riggins agreed. “I’ll help you hunt.”

The two of them headed into the swamp while Yung Ricky climbed into his sleeping bag and went to sleep.

* * *

After an hour, Soggy Beard and Riggins spotted a sailback. Sailbacks were quadrupedal carnivorous dinosaurs between 15 and 20 feet long and weighing two to three tons. They were mostly scavengers but would attack if hungry or provoked. They got their names from the high ridge of bones surrounded by membrane that ran down their backs.

It stopped when it saw them.

“I’ve heard those things are good eatin’,” Soggy Beard said.

He had his poisoned bayonet in his hand and he rushed at the creature before it could react. Then Riggins shot the animal in the hindquarters with his shotgun. The creatures screamed in pain.

* * *

Yung Ricky woke. The roar of the shotgun being fired not terribly far away echoed in the swamp. He was about to roll over and go back to sleep when he saw four eyes glaring at him from the water. What appeared to be logs were floating towards him.

* * *

Soggy Beard, startled by the shotgun blast, tried to stab the sailback with his bayonet. In the dark, he didn’t penetrate the sailback’s skin, but accidently slashed himself on the arm. The cut stung terribly but he hoped that he would be able to resist the poison that was on the blade.

Riggins took careful aim as Soggy Beard continued to try to stab at the sailback without effect. The animal tried to bite Soggy Beard but he leapt out of the way of its terrible jaws. They snapped shut far too close to the man, however. Riggins fired two shots at the dinosaur. The first blast took the animal in the head, splitting its skull and killing it instantly. The second shot missed completely.

The sailback fell over.

* * *

Yung Ricky heard more gunshots. He sat up, looked around, and saw that two crocs were swimming towards the dry spot where he slept. He leapt up and ran to the nearest tree, climbing up as high as he could. The crocs lost track of him, obviously, and moved into the makeshift campsite. They nosed around his sleeping bag and he was not happy to realize he’d left his bottle of whiskey down there.

He took out his magnum and aimed at one of the crocs, shooting it in the head. The animal was very agitated and stumbled around in the campsite, trying to figure out where the pain was coming from. He aimed at it again and fired once more, hitting the forequarter of the animal.

* * *

As Riggins and Soggy Beard tried to figure out how to get the sailback to camp, they heard shooting coming from that direction. It sounded like Yung Ricky’s huge magnum pistol.

“What should we do?” Soggy Beard asked.

“We got to take this back to camp, right?” Riggins said.

“I’ll grab the front, you grab the back.”

“Yeah, we’ll get there eventually.”

* * *

Yung Ricky aimed and fired again, shooting the croc in the head once more. The bullet injured the croc but didn’t kill it instantly, as Yung Ricky had hoped. Both crocs continued to root around in his sleeping bag. He shot the croc in the forequarters again and the animal started to focus on the area where Yung Ricky was shooting from. The other croc moved back into the water.

Yung Ricky aimed and fired at the croc again, hitting it in the head once more. The croc started to move across the camp towards his tree as he aimed and fired again. The bullet struck the animal in the hindquarters again. He quickly reloaded three shells into his magnum as the croc tried to climb up the tree and thrashed around at the bottom.

He aimed and fired again, shooting the croc in the head, and it began to thrash around in its death throes. He did not see the other croc and was not sure where it went.

* * *

The shooting had stopped.

“You think he’s dead or did he get it?” Riggins asked.

“The shooting stops …” Soggy Beard said with a shrug.

* * *

Yung Ricky shined his flashlight down into the water where the other croc had disappeared but didn’t see it. He didn’t see any other animals either. The night noises, which had gone dead while he was shooting, slowly came back. He reloaded his magnum.

The croc he had shot had thrashed around for a while and then lay still. He carefully climbed down from the tree and moved to where his whiskey bottle still lay near the bedroll. He figured exactly where the tree was and then poked the croc in the eye. It didn’t move at all.

He took some time to hack some meat off the croc. Then he set to making a fire.

A half-hour later, Riggins and Soggy Beard stumbled into camp, huffing and puffing under the weight of the sailback they dragged. They were both covered in mud and blood. Yung Ricky was still struggling to get a fire going without much luck. Some meat was on a stick next to him.

“Yo, somebody get over here and make a fire,” Yung Ricky said.

“Yeah, that croc’s pretty impressive but … we took down a sailback,” Soggy Beard said.

“How many of you did it take to do that?” Yung Ricky asked.

“Just … just the …” Soggy Beard said.

“Just me,” Riggins said.

“Just the one,” Soggy Beard said.

“Oh, it looks like it got you there a little bit on the arm there, Soggy Beard,” Yung Ricky said. “You all right?”

“Yeah yeah,” Soggy Beard replied. “That was the sailback. You know, he put up a good fight.”

“That’s really clean for a sailback,” Yung Ricky said.

“Yeah yeah,” Soggy Beard said. “Just … war wounds, you know. It’ll scar up real nice. Look good.”

“Yeah, I feel ya,” Yung Ricky said.

“Let’s cook all this meat tonight,” Riggins said.

“Yeah, farmer: cook this up,” Yung Ricky said. “Sail man: build a fire. I’m going back to sleep.”

Riggins set to work butchering the sailback and the croc. He wanted to get all the meat cooked or smoked so it would stay fresh longer. It was dawn before he finished and he was exhausted. Soggy Beard had gone to sleep after he’d gotten the fire started. Riggins got 420 kilograms of meat off the croc and 375 kilograms of meat off the sailback.

They ate a filling breakfast of meat that morning. They put the rest into the boats.

They finished examining the wreckage, taking several hours to do so. They found a rifle bullet embedded in the gunwale of one of the wrecked boats, and a bullet hole through the skull of one of the victims. They were large caliber bullets.

“It’s them poachers,” Yung Ricky declared.

Riggins was worried about how much shooting they had done the night before. He guessed that the poachers knew where they were.

“Yeah, we shot a lot of bullets last night, we might want to get the hell out of here,” he said.

“Do we return to the research station?” Soggy Beard said.

Yung Ricky pointed out that they had not found the missing biologist yet.

“You guys really need to step up your watches at night,” Yung Ricky complained. “I’m not feeling as secure as I used to.”

He suggested they go back to the research station and deliver them some meat.

“To the girls,” Riggins said.

“Yeah,” Soggy Beard said.

They headed for the research station.

On the way, the boat with Soggy Beard and Yung Ricky ran aground on something under the water and it took them several hours to get loose. They still managed to get back to the research station by dark. Those at the station were somewhat surprised to see them as they left without really saying anything to anyone.

“I thought you were leaving,” Dr. Caduceus said.

“We need help with this meat,” Riggins said.

“You guys looked hungry,” Yung Ricky said.

With the help of the others at the research station, they loaded all of the meat out of the boats and into refrigeration units. They also told everyone about the wreckage of the expedition. Riggins went to tell Dr. Stroink specifically about it. He also told her about killing the sailback. Yung Ricky talked to Dr. Schramm about how he shot a croc in the head. Soggy Beard told Dr. Caduceus about it and he said it was probably poachers.

Soggy Beard also asked about the missing scientist and Dr. Caduceus told him that was Dr. Gerhard Nebel.

“One morning he was simply missing,” Dr. Caduceus said. “Some of the others noticed he had a change of mood in the days leading up to his disappearance. He’d become very suspicious of people, secretive, and withdrawn. One day he was simply gone. I don’t think there was any foul play. I think Nebel had a nervous breakdown and he just wandered off into the swamp, probably falling victim to an animal.”

“Did he take anything with him?” Soggy Beard asked.

“Nobody knows … no,” Dr. Caduceus said. “No. He did not even take a gun when he left.”

“Hm,” Riggins said from the next table. “Probably dead.”

“Mystery solved,” Yung Ricky said.

“But if you’ve seen evidence of poachers, they may have well killed him if he stumbled across them in the act of committing some crime,” Dr. Caduceus said.

“Well, he wouldn’t be committing some crime, would he?” Soggy Beard asked.

“No, if he caught them committing a crime.”

“Oh, all right.”

“If he caught them poaching, they might have eliminated him.”

“Yeah. Okay. Well, that sucks. Poor scientist.”

“Yeah, we’ve been attacked a lot out there,” Riggins said. “I’d say he’s probably dead.”

“Yeah, we’ve been nearly killed like three or four times out there,” Soggy Beard said.

Caduceus said he assumed the man was dead because he’d been missing for so long.

“What was Nebel researching?” Soggy Beard asked.

“He was researching the mating habits of dinosaurs and some of the migration patterns,” Dr. Caduceus said.

“Cool. Did he find anything interesting about certain mating habits that might interest Soggy?”

“Who’s Soggy?”

“I’m Soggy?”

“Oh oh oh, I’m not used to people talking about themselves in the third person.”

Dr. Caduceus tried to explain some of Nebel’s findings. They were very dull.

“That’d probably drive me crazy too,” Soggy Beard said.

* * *

Yung Ricky talked to Dr. Sara Schramm and he learned the same thing from her: that Dr. Caduceus thought the man had a mental breakdown. She remembered the night that Nebel disappeared. She, Rollie Sponberg, and Tom Thrawl had all been playing cards.

Then he asked Dr. Caduceus if Nebel kept a diary or anything. Dr. Caduceus was happy to show him Nebel’s former quarters and his lab if they wanted to look around in it. The numbers and research proved to be very boring and didn’t seem to point to anyone or anything.

They were still pretty sure he was dead.

* * *

Dinner included a lot of meat. Soggy Beard helped to cook with sailback stew, croc cakes, and sailback kebab.

Yung Ricky checked out the armory and found there were eight Mausers in there. They asked if they could have some of the weapons but were told that they were for the research station, though they could use them while they were there if they wanted. They more closely examined the rifles and found that none of them seemed to have been fired recently. They could have been cleaned, however. Yung Ricky asked if he could use the gun cleaning kit and they allowed it. Riggins used the kit as well.

* * *

They talked to Tom Thrawl, the technician and radio operator. Riggins asked the man if he’d had any interesting transmissions lately. Thrawl noted that he had heard some things in a language he didn’t understand. Maybe. He admitted that it sounded like a language but it was during times of great static. When Riggins asked if he could pinpoint where he heard it, the man said he didn’t have any way to triangulate on signals. When Soggy Beard asked if there was any way to hear it, the man said that he had no recording equipment.

“Can we communicate to them?” Riggins asked.

“You can try,” Thrawl said. “You can make some broadcasts. The City in the Sea might pick it up though, so don’t be too creepy or crazy about it.”

“Nah, this guy, he would never,” Soggy Beard said.

They had him warm up the radio set.

“This is Bartholomew Riggins at the research station,” Riggins said. “Where is the missing biologist? Meet us at the research station and we can talk this out or something. Stop shooting dinosaurs that shouldn’t be shot.”

There was no reply though sometimes the static made it sound like there was some kind of strange reply.

“Who are you talking to?” Thrawl asked.

“Maybe somebody’s out there,” Riggins said.

“Maybe,” Thrawl said.

“Maybe they’re poachers,” Yung Ricky said.

“Could be,” Thrawl said.

“People are getting shot out there,” Riggins said.

“Yeah, that’s what I heard,” Thrawl said.

“I don’t take too kind to that,” Riggins said.

* * *

Soggy Beard spoke with Tanya Covington, the second assistant biologist. He took her one of the croc cakes.

“I’ve been hearing talk about this scientist that got missing,” he said. “You know anything about this, Tanya?”

“Yes, I know something about it!” she said.

“You do?”

“Yes! Dr. Nebel, you mean?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well, what have you heard?”

“Well, I heard he just sort of got sort of withdrawn and just disappeared after doing some−”

“Withdrawn? No.”

“No, he wasn’t withdrawn.”

“No. Look, John and I are convinced … we’ve been talking about it. Dr. Nebel talked to both of us and he was convinced that someone on the staff was slipping away from the compound and meeting with somebody in the swamp. He claimed that he saw lights out on the water and he heard the sound of oarlocks and low conversations. He didn’t know who was doing it, but he said he was going to find out. And then, he was gone the next morning.”

“Oh.”

“And you can ask John.”

Soggy Beard remembered that John Lorch was the first assistant biologist.

“Yeah, I guess I’ll go ask John.”

He found Lorch and the man related the same information to him.

Soggy Beard found his two companions.

“I heard that the scientist had a hunch that one of these guys was up to no good,” Soggy Beard told them. “And that one night, he saw lights on the water and heard oars and the next morning, he was gone.”

“It’s Caduceus, let’s shoot him in the face and leave,” Yung Ricky said.

“I don’t like this research station,” Riggins said. “There’s something going on.”

“There is something going on here,” Soggy Beard echoed him.

“The whole place is sketchy,” Yung Ricky said.

“I mean after all the cakes that we baked them …” Soggy Beard said.

“Well, you baked them,” Riggins said.

“But something’s messed up here,” Soggy Beard said. “Something smells fishy and it ain’t Soggy.”

“Well, it is you, but it’s also everything else,” Riggins said.

“It ain’t just Soggy,” Soggy Beard said.

* * *

Yung Ricky found Dr. Stroink in one of the labs and asked if she had learned anything in her time there. She hadn’t, of course, being too busy trying to make sense of Dr. Nebel’s notes.

* * *

Riggins found the staff geologist Bruce Johnson.

“So, what’s up with this missing biologist, man?” he asked the man.

Dr. Johnson was not sure. He didn’t know Nebel very well. However, he related that, from what he understood from Dr. Caduceus, who was also the chief medical officer and was only that up until about six months before, Nebel went crazy and wandered off into the swamp. He noted that he understood that as it could get eerie in the swamp at night.

“You see things,” he said. “You hear weird noises in the swamp.”

“What kind of weird noises?” Riggins asked.

Dr. Johnson described some of the strange sounds he had once heard. He thought they were animals, but he couldn’t identify them and it unnerved him a little.

“Do you feel safe here?” Riggins asked him.

“I feel safe up here, yeah,” Dr. Johnson said. “I wouldn’t want to go down there at night. You’re amazingly brave to have come here and spent the night in the swamp.”

“We were forced to.”

“I’m hoping I have a lot of guards when I finally get reassigned and get out of here.”

Riggins asked about what happened six months before and Dr. Johnson told him that Dr. Crater disappeared. Dr. Caduceus was assigned to be the director of the station after that.

“Has anybody gone missing besides this biologist in the time that you’ve been here?” Riggins asked.

“No,” Dr. Johnson said.

“The first guy.”

“No, Crater was the first to disappear. He disappeared six months ago. He was the station director.”

“Right, but he was the only one.”

“Yeah, just him and Nebel are the only ones that have vanished.”

* * *

Soggy Beard found the staff meteorologist, Rollie Sponberg, and asked him about Nebel. Sponberg gave him the same information that Dr. Caduceus had told them: that Nebel snapped and wandered into the swamp. He talked to the man about the weather in the area and the sunspot activity that seemed to prevalent. Sponberg seemed pretty laid back and casual. He noted that sometimes they had some pretty bad storms.

“I, also, have some pretty bad storms when I’m out fishing,” Soggy Beard said.

“Oh, you’re a fisherman?” Sponberg said.

“I am.”

“Deep water?”

“Deep water, shallow water, creeks, bathtubs.”

Sponberg was interested in fishing and the two chatted about it for a while. Soggy Beard offered to take the man on a fishing trip if he was ever in the City in the Sea. Sponberg seemed interested.

* * *

Riggins returned to his companions and related to them what he learned about Crater. He suggested they start asking about him too.

* * *

Yung Ricky went to Dr. Stroink again and asked her if any equipment had been missing. She seemed irritated that he was talking to her again as she seemed very busy.

“Leave me alone!” she told him.

He also approached Dr. Schramm and asked her the same thing. The only things missing were the last supply expedition.

* * *

The three of them met again and then went to talk to the assistant chemist, Cliff Snyder. He had already proven to be long-winded and talked about everything. He had irritated them with his arrogance and his speech at the last two dinners. They each had a shot of whiskey before they went to talk to him.

Snyder told them basically the same thing that others had told them: that Caduceus had noted that Nebel snapped and went out one night and disappeared. He didn’t know too much about it as he’d been busy assisting in the study of various chemicals they might be able to extract from the swamp. He hadn’t seen anything suspicious.

Yung Ricky asked what kind of chemicals they were extracting from the swamp and Snyder noted they were not extracting any at the time, but were testing to see if there was anything they could get out there. Snyder told them there was talk of using methane from the swamp as fuel. Yung Ricky just walked out.

“I think I hear Tanya calling,” Soggy Beard said.

“You know, your average methane works better than propane,” Snyder said, starting one of his long-winded lectures.

They quickly left the man.

* * *

“Maybe we ought to stay the night and keep an eye on everybody,” Soggy Beard said when the three were able to talk privately again.

Yung Ricky suggested Riggins keep watch and scope around with his IR goggles.

“I like to use my IR goggles,” Riggins said.

“I’ll scope out Tanya …” Soggy Beard said.

“I’ll check on Sara and Stroink,” Yung Ricky said.

“Huh-uh, huh-uh, huh-uh!” Riggins said. “I love Stroink.”

They decided to keep watch that night. They would pretend to sleep but watch over the whole station. Soggy Beard made sure to let Tanya know what room he was staying in.

* * *

Soggy Beard had actually stayed in his room and was watching out the windows. He was still hopeful that Tanya would come by and was pleasantly surprised when he heard a light tapping at his door. He grabbed some sailback jerky he had been saving. He’s put a nice bow on it and held it behind his back.

He opened the door and found Riggins there.

“Oh … it’s just you,” he said.

“Soggy, the mission started an hour ago,” Riggins said.

“All right,” Soggy Beard said. “I see how it is.”

“Tanya’s asleep,” Riggins said. “I swear to God, Tanya’s asleep.”

“Okay. Do you want this jerky?”

“Yeah.”

“I was saving it, but …”

“Are you ready to go scope out some people or what?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“I’m pretty sure Yung Ricky’s asleep.”

The two of them took positions where they could observe the tree houses and planned to stay up all night though Riggins was exhausted as he’d gotten no sleep the night before. Every time Soggy Beard walked by the man, he was unmoving.

“Keep up the good work, man,” Soggy Beard said to him as he passed.

He walked by him several times that night and found the man always in the same exact position. He was a rock.

Riggins was surprised when he woke up and found that he was nearly blinded by his night vision goggles. When he removed them, he found it was morning. Soggy Beard saw nothing out of the ordinary throughout the night.

“Did you see anything last night?” Riggins asked Soggy Beard.

“Nope,” the man replied.

Yung Ricky showed up shortly after that.

“All right, boys,” he said. “You all find anything?”

“Nope,” Soggy Beard said.

“I watched all night,” Yung Ricky, who had slept all night, lied. “Didn’t see a thing.”

“I also watched all night and didn’t see a thing,” Riggins lied.

“I planned to be up all night anyways, but I was just watching,” Soggy Beard said. “It wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped.”

“It might take a couple nights of observation,” Yung Ricky said.

* * *

After breakfast, the three men returned to the biology laboratory to talk to the assistant biologists Lorch and Covington. Dr. Stroink was in there as well, still trying to get Nebel’s notes organized.

“Hey, Stroink, you need a hand over there?” Yung Ricky called.

“No!” Dr. Stroink said.

“She can handle herself, guys,” Riggins said. “She’s amazing.”

Soggy Beard asked the two assistants if they suspected any foul play. They both said they did. When he asked if they suspected anyone in particular, neither of them did. They just guessed that someone on the staff was responsible for Nebel’s disappearance.

“That was our guess too,” Soggy Beard said.

“Did he have anywhere he liked to go outside the research station?” Yung Ricky asked.

The two didn’t know of anyplace.

“If you had to put their money on one person that could have been responsible, was it Cliff?” Riggins asked.

“And why?” Yung Ricky said.

“I don’t know,” Lorch said. “What was he doing that night?”

“I don’t know, but he annoys the ****ing shit out of me,” Riggins said.

“Well, he annoys everybody, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad person.”

“Well …”

“We’ll just start with him,” Yung Ricky said.

“Lorch and I were together that night,” Covington said.

“Researching mating rituals?” Soggy Beard asked.

“No … what?” Covington said. “What are you talking about?”

The two noted that they were together that evening.

Soggy Beard asked some of the others what they were doing that night. Yung Ricky had already found out from Dr. Schramm that she had been with Sponberg and Thrawl that night, playing cards. He related that information to the others and they talked to Johnson and Snyder and found out that the two of them could vouch for each other that night as well. The two men had been working on a geological survey of the surrounding area and where they could do chemical research in the swamp.

“That sounds excruciatingly boring,” Soggy Beard said.

“Actually, chemistry can be quite an exciting field,” Snyder told him.

They quickly left.

The only one without an alibi that night was Dr. Caduceus. They talked about interrogating the man and how they should approach him about not having an alibi. They discussed it for some time and decided to do it after dinner that night.

After diner, they went to the separate tree house where Dr. Caduceus had his quarters. He seemed surprised to see them but invited them into the sitting room of the small hut. Soggy Beard offered him some sailback jerky.

“I had plenty of meat for dinner,” Caduceus said. “We really appreciate the meat supply. Fresh meat is easy to come by but hard to get, you know?”

“This was certainly hard to get, but it’s worth it,” Soggy Beard said.

“I can’t even imagine,” Dr. Caduceus said.

“You know what isn’t hard to get?” Riggins said.

“I really enjoyed the stories you’ve told,” Dr. Caduceus said to Soggy Beard.

“The suspicion that you had something to do with Nebel’s disappearance,” Riggins said.

“What?” Dr. Caduceus said. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, everybody has an alibi except for you.”

“Everybody has−”

“And then you become the chief at the station afterwards.”

“After Nebel disappeared?”

“Yeah.”

“No, I became chief of the station six months ago. Nebel disappeared less than a month ago.”

“Crater.”

“I was assigned to become the chief of the station after Crater’s disappearance.”

“Well, Nebel thought somebody around here was being suspicious. And everybody has an alibi, except for you, and that’s why we’re here.”

“All right, wait. Who has alibis with who?”

“None of your business,” Yung Ricky said.

“Where were you on the night of Nebel’s disappearance?” Soggy Beard said.

“I was sleeping,” Dr. Caduceus said.

“Can anyone vouch that you were sleeping?”

“No. I came to my room and I went to bed that night.”

“Hmm.”

“I was exhausted.”

“Likely.”

“Who were the alibis that people have alibis with.”

They told him about Johnson and Snyder.

“All right, so two people have told you they were together,” Dr. Caduceus said. “What if they’re both in on it?”

“What if you’re in on it?” Yung Ricky said.

“I’m not!” Dr. Caduceus said. “Who else? What other alibis have you got?”

“I don’t trust you,” Riggins said.

“Well, I’m sorry that you don’t trust me,” Dr. Caduceus said. “But you’d better have something more solid than ‘I don’t trust you.’ Why don’t you trust me?”

“We don’t trust anybody here,” Riggins said. “This place is weird.”

“Yeah, it’s very hard living in a research station,” Dr. Caduceus said. “It’s a lot of work. It’s very hard. And don’t think I don’t appreciate the dangers you three went through, and others went through, to get to us.”

“This guy sounds all right,” Yung Ricky said. “Let’s tell him everything.”

They apologized to the man told him everything. He pointed out that the alibis are mostly pairs of people who might simply have been covering for each other. He still didn’t think there was any kind of plot, however and was more intrigued than concerned by what had happened.

“Is this Nebel guy really that important?” Riggins asked.

“What?” Dr. Caduceus said.

“Why are we even here?”

“Well, he was our chief biologist, but we’ve got a replacement now. Only Nebel claimed that he saw lights and heard voices.”

“Did he say where?” Yung Ricky asked.

“No,” Dr. Caduceus said. “He never talked to me about this. It’s still my medical opinion that he was just a victim of paranoid delusions. He went off to confront them in the swamp ─ I didn’t know about these lights and such ─ and probably got himself killed by an animal out there. None of the guns were missing; he didn’t take a weapon with him. The Mausers are the only weapons we have on the station.”

“We know that there’s like poachers or somebody out there shooting down dinosaurs,” Soggy Beard said.

“Maybe the poachers caught him,” Dr. Caduceus said. “We haven’t heard any gunshots or gunfire here. So, if there’s poachers, they’re being very quiet about it.”

“And we don’t have any idea where these poachers are, do we?” Riggins said.

They didn’t.

“See, Nebel mentioned to one of the researchers that he saw lights and heard oar sounds on the river the night he went missing,” Soggy Beard said.

“But no one else has seen or heard any of these things,” Dr. Caduceus said. “What does that say to you about Nebel? He was a good fellow. He was a great fellow. I hate that he cracked up and went nuts, but … I’m pretty certain that’s what happened.”

“Seeing lights doesn’t mean you’re crazy,” Soggy Beard said. “We’ve got oars on the boats.”

“Maybe he thought he heard something and maybe he got nabbed by the wrong people then,” Dr. Caduceus admitted. “Nobody else has seen any lights or heard any weird noises. Well, except for Johnson and it’s just the noises from the animals unnerve him.”

“We could take the boat up the river and see what we see,” Yung Ricky said.

“I guess that’s our best hope,” Riggins said.

“They gotta have a dock somewhere if they use boats, right?”

“Right.”

They decided to go right then and Soggy Beard apologized again for accusing Dr. Caduceus. Then Soggy Beard asked him if Tanya and Lorch were a couple. The doctor denied it, and seemed confused by the question.

“So, I still gotta shot,” Soggy Beard said. “Okay.”

Dr. Caduceus didn’t know.

They left his quarters and went down to the boats, heading back into the swamp in a single boat. It was very dark outside of the research station as they paddled upstream where the river nearest the bog that the research station stood in flowed. Yung Ricky rolled out the sleeping bag in the boat and lay down.

“Don’t wake me,” he said.

Riggins looked back as they entered the estuary several hundred meters away. He saw a light flashing from the research station several times and before it went out.

“That’s like Morse code guys,” he said.

“What?” Soggy Beard said. “What is?”

“That light that was flashing behind us from the research station,” Riggins said.

“Why are you talking?” Yung Ricky said. “I’m trying to sleep.”

“Where was it coming from?” Soggy Beard said. “Which one of the tree houses was it coming from?”

“I don’t know,” Riggins said. “It was just from the research station. That proves that Nebel wasn’t crazy though.”

“Well, they’re flashing to somebody,” Soggy Beard said.

“Yeah, it was Morse code,” Riggins said.

“We should stake it out,” Yung Ricky said.

Riggins looked around with his IR goggles but didn’t see any hostile or large animals nearby.

“No lights, no noise, stake it out, see who comes, gotta be a signal,” Yung Ricky said.

“Yeah,” Riggins said.

“If anybody shows up, y’all can wake me,” Yung Ricky said.

Riggins wanted to get up in a tree so he’d have a vantage point.

“Maybe we should stage something,” Soggy Beard said. “Like, get out of the boat and keep the boat in the water so that when people come, expecting to find us … ‘cause I still feel there might have been some dirty business up in that research station and he just gave a signal, so I’m feeling like something’s about to happen, so we should get out of this boat, but keep it in the water to make people suspect there’s people in here, in case there’s an ambush or something.”

“You should be in the boat,” Riggins said.

“Because you’re a sailor,” Yung Ricky piped up.

“I guess I could be in the boat, but you guys have gotta have my back, okay?” Soggy Beard said.

“It’s our only mode of transportation,” Riggins pointed out. “We can’t have nobody in the boat, is what I’m saying.”

“All right,” Soggy Beard said.

They put Riggins off on one side of the river and Yung Ricky off on the other, both of them climbing trees. Soggy Beard rowed the boat into the middle of the river and ducked down into it. They tried to figure out some signals to alert each other.

It was about three hours later when they heard the first gunshot from the research station. It was followed by several more. They sounded like high-caliber guns. Riggins called to Soggy Beard and the man rowed over to pick him up, then crossed the river to get Yung Ricky, and headed back for the research station. When they got close, they could see that there were still some lights burning in the various tree houses. However, it had gone quiet. They also saw two boats drawn up on the shore. They quickly searched them but found nothing in there of interest or value. They pushed the boats out into the water.

“We gotta get in there,” Riggins said. “Stroink may be in trouble.”

“Tanya!” Yung Ricky said.

Soggy Beard moved to the nearest rope ladder that hung down from the research station. He put his bayonet in his mouth, clutching the handle with his teeth, and started to climb the creaking rope ladder. The other two headed off in two different directions. Soggy Beard was halfway up when he saw someone’s head appear in the open trapdoor above in the light in the room. He didn’t recognize the face of the man, so he quickly swung around to the other side of the rope ladder and held still.

The man above leaned further over, a rifle in his hand. He looked down into the darkness for what felt to Soggy Beard like a long time, then he stepped back and disappeared from sight. After a few moments, Soggy Beard continued climbing up on the backside of the ladder. All remained quiet in the room above and he saw a shadow that he assumed was the man in the room, though it was some five meters from the trapdoor.

He waited.

* * *

Yung Ricky headed off to the left until he found one of the ropes that hung down from the tree house that held the laboratories. They were there to allow a quick escape from any part of the tree house in case of fire or other emergency. He grabbed the rope and climbed up. There was no one on the balcony.

He crept to the wide window of the biology lab and could hear someone inside throwing things around. He drew his magnum and peeked into the room. A man was in the room. He wore rough clothing and had a rifle slung over his back. He was dumping papers onto the ground.

Yung Ricky walked into the room with his gun out.

“Hands on your head, down on your knees,” he said, aiming the magnum at the man.

It was only then that he noticed the body on the floor in a pool of blood.

“Oh yeah, and be quiet,” Yung Ricky said.

The man spun around and saw Yung Ricky, then turned and ran away. Yung Ricky fired at the man but missed, blowing a large hole in the wall of the lab. The man started screaming.

“That was your warning shot!” Yung Ricky yelled.

The man ducked behind the wall to the next lab and Yung Ricky fired, hoping to get lucky and hit the man through the thin wall. He blew another hole in the wall and the man let out another shriek. He fired another shot at the wall, hoping to get lucky, and blasted yet another hole. The other man went quiet after that.

Then Yung Ricky ran out onto the balcony and into the dark.

* * *

Riggins found one of the ropes leading up to the barracks tree house off to the right and climbed up, soon finding himself on the balcony that ran around the building that held the staff’s quarters. It was dark and empty there. He moved to one of the living quarters. Then he heard gunfire. After the first shot, he heard footsteps crossing the exterior of the tree house he stood on, heading for the central tree house. He could two men, both heavily armed with .4548 Tribal Express rifles. They crossed the rope bridge at a brisk pace.

He headed into the nearest barracks room.

* * *

When Soggy Beard heard the gunfire, he watched the shadow on the floor cross the room towards the sound, which was coming from the direction of the laboratory tree house. It took him a while to get onto the correct side of the rope ladder. He heard a door open on the other side of the tree house he was under.

* * *

Yung Ricky reloaded the three shells he’d fired.

“One of them’s over here!” he heard a shout come from the man he’d been shooting at.

He holstered his pistol, grabbed the rope, and slid down. Unfortunately, he was not wearing any gloves and sliding down the rope burned his hands badly.

“Oh God! Oh God!” he muttered.

He ran towards the ladder on the far side of the tree house.

* * *

Soggy Beard finally managed to pull himself up into the mess hall. The far door that led outside was open and he saw a body on the floor of the place amidst the overturned tables and chairs. There was a great deal of blood around the body. He dropped his knife into his hand and went to the open door, peeking out. He could see the man he had been following enter one of the labs and he followed him.

* * *

Riggins entered one of the rooms and looked around. The room was empty so he moved to the next one quickly and found it also empty, though it appeared to have been a woman’s room. He headed around to the next room.

In the third room, he found the body of Tanya Covington. She had been shot and was quite dead.

“These damned poachers!” he muttered. “These aren’t dinosaurs. These are humans!”

* * *

As Soggy Beard reached the doorway to the laboratories, he heard another behind him open up and, looking over his shoulder, saw two men exit the tree house he’d just been in from another door. He glanced into the laboratory and saw two men in the room so he charged in, bayonet in hand, at the two men who were talking quietly about the men from the City in the Sea. He swung wildly but the man he attacked dodged out of the way.

“What the hell!?!” the man yelled.

One of the men clubbed Soggy Beard in the right arm with the butt of his rifle. The other man was surprised at seeing the sailor. Soggy Beard tried to grab the man who clubbed him and fling him out the window but didn’t get a good grip. The man tried to club him again but it was merely a glancing blow. He tried to grab the man and throw him out the window but the man clubbed him in the right leg with the butt of his rifle.

The other man backed away and brought his rifle to bear. Soggy Beard grabbed at the man he was fighting. He shoved the man at his companion but the man fell far short, crashing to the floor nearby.

* * *

Yung Ricky climbed the other rope ladder and found himself on the balcony on the far side of Dr. Caduceus’s quarters. He saw two men crossing the rope bridge from the main tree house to the laboratory tree house, where there were sounds of a struggle, and took aim at one of them.

* * *

Riggins looked into the next barracks room and found a man hiding under the bed.

“Oh, thank goodness you found me,” Cliff Snyder said.

Riggins rolled his eyes.

“What’s going on?” Snyder said. “What’s going on? I heard shooting! I hid under my bed!”

* * *

Yung Ricky fired his magnum but the bullet missed the man he was aiming at.

“Somebody’s over there!” one of them yelled.

One of the men ran for his position while the other continued more slowly. Yung Ricky aimed at the nearer of them.

* * *

The man Soggy Beard had flung stood up as the other man aimed his .458 Tribal Express rifle at him.

“Stand down you son of a *****, or I’ll blow your ****ing head off!” the other man said.

Soggy Beard rushed the man, who was caught off guard, and shoved the man out the window. He crashed to the balcony outside, not going through the railing like Soggy Beard wanted. The other man struck him in the head with the butt of his rifle and everything went black for the sailor.

* * *

Yung Ricky shot the man rushing across the rope bridge just as he reached the balcony on the near side. He saw the man’s eyes open wide as he blasted the man in the head. The back of his skull exploded, his body flung backwards by the force of the blast, breaking through the railing and falling into the foliage below.

“God damn!” the other man yelled.

He put his gun to his shoulder and aimed at Yung Ricky, who ran into Caduceus’s rooms. The other man fired at him, blowing a hole in the wall but missing Yung Ricky. He ran into Caduceus’s chambers and saw Dr. Caduceus there with a Mauser pistol. The man aimed it at him. Yung Ricky quickly looked for something to duck behind but there was nothing nearby. He aimed his own gun at Dr. Caduceus.

“Drop it!” he said.

He heard someone running towards him from the area of the laboratory tree house. Then Dr. Caduceus shot at him. He fired at the man at the same time, hitting him in the abdomen. Dr. Caduceus’s bullet blew a hole in the nearby wall, missing Yung Ricky completely.

He looked to his right and saw the other man run around the side of the building. He tried to club Yung Ricky with the butt of his rifle but swung it so hard it flew right out of hand, hit the ground, and slid right off the side of the tree house balcony.

“Oh shit!” the man yelled.

He reached for the .38 special holstered on his belt. Yung Ricky aimed at the man.

“Drop to your knees!” he said. “Hands on your head!”

Caduceus fired at Yung Ricky again but missed completely. He stumbled backwards.

* * *

“C’mon Cliff,” Riggins said.

He led the man out of the room.

“Check this room while I check this one,” he said to Snyder.

The assistant chemist did as he was told, though he seemed nervous.

Riggins found another dead body in the next room he looked into. It was Dr. Sara Schramm. Snyder hissed at him that he’d found an empty room.

* * *

Yung Ricky shot the man in the right leg, blasting a huge hole in it. The man screamed and fell to the balcony, shrieking in agony. Then he brought his gun to bear on Caduceus again as the man on the ground screamed for him not to hurt him.

“Hey, drop that damned gun!” Yung Ricky yelled at Dr. Caduceus.

The doctor turned and stumbled away, heading for the door that led in the direction of the main structure of the tree house. Yung Ricky quickly reloaded as Dr. Caduceus ran out of the room.

* * *

Riggins found Bruce Johnson hiding in his room.

“Come on, let’s go,” Riggins said to Johnson.

“What’s going on?” Johnson asked.

Snyder told him that he’d found another empty room.

* * *

Soggy Beard shook his head and awoke, lying on the floor of the biology lab. Two men stood with rifles pointing at him. He saw that his own pistol was gone, tucked into the belt of one of the other men. His knife was stuck into the wall.

“Where am I?” Soggy Beard said.

“Shut up!” one of the men said. “Who are you?”

“I don’t know! Who the hell am I? Where am I?”

One of them poked Soggy Beard in the head with the barrel of his rifle.

“Oh God,” Soggy Beard said. “What’re you doing?”

“Sit up!” the man said.

Soggy Beard sat up and the other man clubbed him with the butt of his rifle. It was a glancing blow but it hurt terribly. Then he grabbed the rifle but the man pulled it out of his grasp.

“Son of a *****!” the man said as both of them backed away from him.

Just then, Dr. Caduceus ran into the open door. There was a lot of blood on his shirt and jacket.

* * *

Yung Ricky reached across and took the pistol from the incapacitated poacher who squirmed and groaned on the ground. Moments later, Riggins, Snyder, and Johnson entered Dr. Caduceus’s rooms.

“Why’d you bring Cliff?” Yung Ricky asked him.

“I got Bruce,” Riggins said.

* * *

“Just kill him!” Dr. Caduceus said. “We’ve got to kill him! We’ve got to kill everybody!”

“Uh … what?” Soggy Beard said.

He suddenly rolled along the floor and Dr. Caduceus had to leap up as he rolled under him. He rolled towards the door, which surprised everyone.

“Son of a−!” one of the poachers yelled.

Both poachers fired at the man and both of them missed him, blowing large holes in the floor.

“No no no no no!” Dr. Caduceus screamed as the gunfire flew towards him.

* * *

Riggins and Yung Ricky heard gunfire that sounded like it came from the nearby laboratory tree house. Both Snyder and Dr. Johnson dropped low as they heard the shots fired. Yung Ricky handed the pistol he’d taken from the poacher to Dr. Johnson and told Snyder to watch their prisoner.

“Come with us,” he said to Dr. Johnson.

Riggins ran out of the room and all the way to the balcony of the laboratory tree house. Yung Ricky hung back, walking to the edge of the balcony of Dr. Caduceus’s tree house. Dr. Johnson followed behind them.

“Soggy!” Riggins yelled.

He aimed his shotgun at the door as Soggy Beard rolled out and then crawled quickly towards him. When one of the men came out of the door, Riggins shot at him, blasting another big hole in the wall. The poacher screamed.

Nearby, Yung Ricky aimed at the man. The poacher raised his rifle as Soggy Beard crawled away and Riggins fired at the man. The poacher’s bullet missed, but Riggins shot the man in the head, blowing the top of it right off and killing the man instantly. Yung Ricky fired at the same time, the large bullet from his magnum striking the man in his abdomen. The force knocked the poacher back and over the edge of the tree house.

“Let that be a lesson to you!” Yung Ricky yelled.

“Hey, Caduceus!” Riggins called.

“C’mon out!” Yung Ricky called.

A wail rose from the laboratory tree house. They recognized it as Dr. Caduceus.

“Kill ‘em! Kill ‘em! Kill ‘em!” he shrieked.

“What happened?” the other poacher yelled. “What happened?”

Yung Ricky ran to the laboratory tree house and then around the other side from the doorway that the poacher had come out. He called Caduceus’ name as he ran. Soggy Beard ran for Caduceus’s tree house. Riggins walked to the doorway but didn’t move to the entrance.

“What happened?” a poacher called. “What happened?”

“Surrender now and you won’t die!” Riggins called.

“Caduceus! We’re coming in!” Yung Ricky yelled as he ran. “Anybody who’s not on the ground with their hands in the air will be a fine mist!”

Just then a poacher stepped out in front of him. The poacher raised his rifle and Yung Ricky raised his magnum pistol. They both fired at once. The poacher missed. Yung Ricky did not. He shoved the gun into the man’s face and pulled the trigger, blasting the back of his head clean off.

“What I tell you, Caduceus!?!” he yelled.

Riggins peeked into the room and saw the poacher die.

Dr. Caduceus, still wailing, ran to the rope, and grabbed onto it, flopping at the side of the tree house. Yung Ricky tried to grab the man but couldn’t get a grip on him. Dr. Caduceus, still wailing, slid quickly down to the bottom, screaming as he injured his hands. Yung Ricky aimed at the man and shot him in the right leg. The man fell to the ground, unconscious.

They quickly got Dr. Caduceus back up into the tree house research station and also tied up the other prisoner. A search of the station found that the dead body in the biology lab was John Lorch. In the mess hall, they found the dead body of Dr. Stroink.

“Where’s Sara?” Yung Ricky asked Riggins.

“Cliff found her dead,” Riggins told him.

“Cliff!” Yung Ricky said.

They found Sponberg and Thrawl hiding in the armory, just off the sitting room.

“Why didn’t you save Sara!?!” Yung Ricky asked them when they found them.

“Or Tanya?” Soggy Beard said.

“Because somebody took the bolts out of these rifles!” Sponberg said.

A search found the bolts on the ground below.

Yung Ricky and Riggins eventually interrogated both Dr. Caduceus and the poacher. The poacher told him that Dr. Caduceus had been working with them. The doctor would give them information on the migratory habits of the local wildlife, which made their job easier. Dr. Caduceus was responsible for the death of Dr. Nebel. He was also responsible for the death of Dr. Crater.

“Where are the bodies?” Yung Ricky asked.

“They’re in the swamp somewhere,” Dr. Caduceus said with a smile.

Dr. Caduceus gloated that he had understood Nebel’s notes and would secretly copy them and give them to poachers. To avoid detection, they would meet by boat at night. The poachers were slaughtering the local slithers and selling their skins, horns, and glands on the black market. Six months before, Dr. Crater discovered Dr. Caduceus with the poachers and Caduceus killed Crater with his own hands.

Caduceus, when he lost his friendly demeanor, proved himself to be the psychopath that he truly was. During the interrogation, he went into great detail on how he was going to murder each of them and the terrible things he would do to them before and after they were dead.

They also learned that the first supply expedition was attacked because it had valuable scientific equipment and rare chemicals which fetched a high price on the black market. Caduceus gave the poachers information on when it would arrive and the route it would take.

When Riggins asked why the poachers attacked the station, the poacher told them that Caduceus signaled them with a special signal that indicated they should wipe everyone out. Then Caduceus would claim to be the only survivor. When he asked Caduceus about it, the man told him that the investigators were getting too close to the truth and he figured his best plan was to wipe out everyone in the station. When the three of them returned, they could ambush them. He figured they would return when they heard the shooting, but also guessed they would be further away from what they had originally told him of their plan.

They gathered up the poachers’ .458 Tribal Express rifles and a few bullets for each one off the poachers, as well as a .38 special from each and extra bullets for those guns as well.

Eventually, they transported the two prisoners through the swamp and back to the City in the Sea. It was a terribly long and treacherous trip, with the two murderous prisoners constantly trying to escape and making the overland passage very stressful. Caduceus threatened the men with the terrible things he planned to do to them. When they finally crossed the plains and spotted Tenrec’s garage on the horizon, it was a genuine cause for relief.

The two men were quickly tried and executed for their crimes.

In addition to the weaponry they kept from the poachers, the three were rewarded for their service to the city. They were given several hundred credits each, though half of the credits they received had to be immediately spent on gear.

Soggy Beard found that Stinky Pete had done no fishing while he was gone.

Submit "Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: Lurkers in the Swamp" to Digg Submit "Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: Lurkers in the Swamp" to del.icio.us Submit "Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: Lurkers in the Swamp" to StumbleUpon Submit "Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: Lurkers in the Swamp" to Google

Comments