“…And then I
said, “Pal, you wouldn’t know a Xerxitis Scoliatus
if you fell over it!” Loria roared with laughter; his companions merely smiled out of politeness.
The companions cleared their throats, picked up their dinner plates and ambled away from the fire side. Loria turned, squinted up at the woman. “Wassup, CC?”
Cordelia raised a black eyebrow and firmed her mouth. “I will tell you again: Don’t
call me ‘CC’. You call me ‘Cordelia’ or ‘Professor Carrington’.”
He touched two fingers to his forehead and flicked them forward. “Right you are, PC.”
“Loria.” He either missed the warning in her tone, or didn’t care.
“Hey, you’re too young to called Professor, and Cordelia sounds like my grandmother’s name.” He gave her what she could only assume was his idea of a charming grin.
Cordelia crouched beside him and lowered her voice. “It seems I wasn’t clear: address me with respect or you will be back at Sirius University cleaning the toilets. I will have your study licence revoked; I will have your teaching privileges suspended or cancelled. Is that simple enough for you?”
His grin turned sour. “Yeah, P…” He cleared his throat. “Yes, Professor Carrington, but…” he shrugged. “It’s a misdemeanour. A slap on the wrist, a chastisement, a note in my file. Every other field trip leader didn’t mind.”
“Is that right?”
“Yep, why old man Gurenburg….”
“Warned me of your disrespect; as did Professors White, Arundel and Vespian. So don’t even try it. This is your last chance, Loria. Those ‘misdemeanours’ have piled up until they have come to the attention of the Dean.”
His blue eyes were hard when they glared at her, but for once, he kept his mouth shut.
“Now, you’re learning. We’ll leave it at that. On to the next item of our agenda. I saw the red-flagged path.”
Loria glanced away, the firelight and shadows emphasised the tightness and rebellion of his shoulders.
Cordelia waited in silence until he finally jerked a shoulder. “This jungle sucks the life right out of a man. It’s hot and wet during the day, hot and damp at night. I ran out of energy.”
“Then you’d better take plenty of water with you tomorrow. I need those traps set by noon. We cannot afford to get too far behind schedule, Loria.”
“Yes, Professor Carrington.” Loria muttered.
Cordelia rose and wandered towards her tent. Loria Drake might be a waste of academia, but he was right about one thing: the planet, nominally called, J-169/3a was a hell of a hot and humid place.
She brushed aside the tent entrance and picked up a towel to wipe her sweating face. Then she sat down at her camp desk and made notes about the day’s discoveries.
J-169/3a had an abundance of wildlife. It was her team’s responsibility to catalogue as many species as possible; and it was a large team: trappers, physiological scanners, zoological sociologists, statisticians; the list went on. And then there was Loria. He was supposed to be an expert zoologist, but Cordelia was beginning to wonder. He was a screw up and a jerk. So far, all he’d been good for was labour. His insights into the animals of this planet were obvious and unhelpful.
But just maybe, she’d instilled in him how dire his situation was becoming.
She shook her head and began writing.
* * *
“One-point-seven-nine-two kilograms, Professor.” Elias Grange picked up the six-legged pale grey furry creature and set it on the ground. It scampered into the undergrowth.
“Excellent.” She wiped her forehead and squinted up. The red-tinged canopy kept the heat and moisture from escaping. For once she wished for a giant buzz saw to cut it all away.
“When do we get to name them?” Grange asked and she lowered her head, smiled at the Doctorate student.
“Name them? Why, that honour belongs to the higher ups, I’m afraid.”
His mouth turned down. “Well that’s disappointing. I was all set to name that creature ‘Fred’.”
“You’re incorrigible, Grange.” She grinned and went to the next trap… or where the next trap was supposed to be.
Grange searched the undergrowth but couldn’t find it. He turned to her with a shrug and went further up the trail.
Cordelia fumed. She warned him, officially and
unofficially and still he chose to disregard her; disrespect this mission. Loria was going to be on the next shuttle out.
Grange came back down the path, shaking his head. “There aren’t any more out, Professor. I thought Drake was supposed to be out here early this morning?”
She dragged in a deep breath. “That was my understanding as well.”
“Well,” he scratched his scalp through thinning blond hair. “I saw Loria up and about at dawn loading up some traps, I assumed… but I shouldn’t have, should I? I should have made sure he was going to set them.”
Cordelia slapped his shoulder with affection. “Not your fault, Grange, this is Loria’s. Let’s get back to camp since there is nothing more we can do out here. Get Roger and Melanie out here after lunch to do it. I’ll deal with Loria.”
* * *
The camp was deserted when they arrived, but that wasn’t unusual: all the scientists were out in the field; the admin staff remained to keep the camp in good order and to provide food and communications.
“Grange, could you hunt up something cool to drink for me please?” Cordelia asked and looked around the camp.
“Sure thing, Professor.”
“I’ll either be in my tent, or in the com centre.”
He nodded and wandered over to the open-walled mess tent.
Cordelia went straight to the com tent. She brushed aside the opening and stepped inside. Here, it was cooler with portable aircons to keep the equipment from overheating. Here, too, she found Loria, facing away from her, lounging back in a camp seat, feet up on the table, headset on, gurgling with laughter.
“Oh, Ladoca, you crack me up. Of course
they don’t suspect. Hell, I set enough traps to keep them busy for weeks.”
Cordelia stood still; listened to the rest of his conversation, her hot anger easing into cold fury.
“Nah. The planet’s full of ‘em. They’ll fetch some amazing prices at market once we’ve gone. Well, yeah. Another week and this planet will be open to you… Co-ordinates? Yep… Cords might be a professor, but she’s way too trusting. This planet is gonna make us wealthier beyond our dreams, Ladoca, it’s the pot of gold we’ve been looking for.”
Cordelia rose up on her toes. She saw the corner of her records book sitting in his lap and she ground her teeth together. In that book was a description of every animal they’d discovered as well as measurements. Every night, the teams brought their work to her and she transcribed it into the book. If a team lost their notes, she’d have a back up copy and they lost only a day’s worth of that team’s notations.
“Yeah, well, I’ll have another download for you the same time tomorrow. Okay. See you in a week.”
He tugged off the headset and tossed it onto the table, sighed happily and rubbed his hands together.
“So in truth, you’re a black marketeer.” Cordelia said and turned so fast, he nearly fell off the chair.
“How long have you been there? You’re supposed to be out with the traps!”
“Long enough to know your ass will be in prison for a long time.” She sneered. “And we came back early because there weren’t
any traps to find.”
Loria’s eyed narrowed. “They’re out on the red path, like you asked. You should be out there.”
Cordelia raised an eyebrow. “You’re done, Drake.”
He shook his head. “I so didn’t want it to come to this.” He tossed her book onto the desk and wrapped his fist around the grip of a darter pistol with a bulging silencer attached.
Cordelia looked at him, then the gun. It fired a group of four razor-sharp, high tensile steel darts.
“You’ve got to be kidding.” She said blandly and he pushed himself up from the chair.
“Nope. You wanted to be rid of me. I’m gonna grant you your wish sooner than expected.” He took a cautious step towards her. “All you have to do is act normal. I’ll go to my tent, collect my gear and we’ll go to the shuttle. We will lift off and rendezvous with the Darwinian
. Simple.” He turned and fired into the com unit. It sparked and sizzled. A curl of smoke rose from the ruined unit.
“That was our help line.” Cordelia clenched her hands into fists.
“And now it’s not. Move.”
Cordelia stepped out into the compound. Still empty.
She began walking towards the tent Loria shared with three others.
Grange hailed her and she turned slightly.
“Act normal, CC, or I’ll kill him.” Loria whispered in her ear.
“I got you a lime crush, that okay?” Grange held out a drink pack with the straw already stuck in the top. “Hey, Loria, we didn’t find the traps. Where’d you put ‘em?”
Cordelia took the pack from him and sipped as if she had all day.
“On the red-flagged path.” He pointed to the right of the camp and Grange let out a whoop of laughter.
“Loria! You idiot, that’s the green
path! The planetary surveyors’ route!”
Cordelia nearly choked on her drink. Drake was colour-blind?
She risked a glance over her shoulder. Drake was red faced - or she thought with a grin, from his perspective, green faced - with embarrassment and anger.
“Listen here you little…” He reigned himself in.
“Oh, man, I’m sorry, but hell, that means there are… jeez, how many traps did you set? On the wrong path.”
“It’s not a ‘wrong’ path, just one we’re not doing yet.” Loria ground out.
Grange grinned at him. “That’s one way of looking at it, I guess.”
Cordelia held the drink pack between her hands, warmed it. She was running out of time. She knew well enough that Drake would not let her live. If he had his way, he’d kill them all and be the lone survivor of a tragic accident.
“Here, Grange, I’m done with this.” She tossed him the almost full pack and kept turning. She glimpsed the gun, aimed low and to the side so Grange wouldn’t see it.
She slapped the gun aside with one hand and brought up a fist, slammed it up under Loria’s chin. His head snapped back.
“Wha?” Grange began but too late.
Cordelia brought her fist up again on a back strike and caught Drake on the cheek as his head came forward. His other hand swung around and he pressed his finger down on the trigger, emptying the clip as he fell to the side.
She felt like she’d been punched herself, but she leapt on Drake as he went down. Using his own momentum, she rolled him onto his stomach and slammed the heel of her hand into his kidneys then wrenched his gun-less hand up his back until his fingers touched his collar, put her knee into his lower back.
“Lose the weapon, or so help me I’ll break your spine.”
Drake tried to struggle as he cursed and swore and spat.
Cordelia glared up at an open-mouthed Grange. “Get the security cuffs, Grange. Now!”
His head bobbed and he turned and ran.
“You little shit.” She twisted his arm and he cried out, arched back. “Better.” She grimaced and hooked her free arm around his throat. “I can break your neck, too. Leverage is a wonderful thing, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“You… you... you’re bleeding like a stuck pig, bitch. How long do you think you’ll last?”
“Long enough to kill you. Now, if I have to.” She leaned back, building the pressure on his neck, cutting off his air.
Grange returned with not only the cuffs, but two admin staff as well, including the formidably built cook.
While she held him, Grange slapped the bonding cuffs around the wrist she held, then the other, and let him go.
Suddenly, she felt light headed and looked down. The son of a bitch winged her!
She sat on the mossy ground and held a hand to her side. Blood, lots of it, trickled between her fingers and she stared at it until her vision greyed, then faded to black.
* * *
“Professor Carrington, it is not in the purview of this university to engage in law enforcement decisions!” Dean Alexander said.
Cordelia opened one eye, then the other. Couldn’t this have waited until I’m back on my feet, damn it?
But no, of course not. The head of the University was in full steam and no one, not even his wife could stop him. He would have his say regardless of whether she was conscious enough to listen.
He also had a captive audience.
“You are not
Indiana Jane. Planet J-169/3a does not
have priceless treasures to protect from the Nasties.”
He also thought himself as a classics film buff.
“And I will not
have my people beaten up or nearly murdered for the sake of one world.”
“Dean Alexander.” Cordelia said softly but firmly. “Drake was going to kill me. He’d already destroyed the com unit. No doubt he was planning to do something with the shuttle, too, so it couldn’t come back for us. His black market is too lucrative for something as silly as the team to get in way.”
“Harumph.” Alexander crossed his arms, his tanned face grim, his green eyes concerned. And, she noted, this was the first time she’d seen his white hair uncombed.
“I’ll be fine, Morgan.”
“You’ll be happy to know then,” he grumbled, “that Drake and Ladoca Benregis, from the faculty on Virtua have been indicted and sentenced to life for their crimes.” He patted her hand. “So, you’ll be ready for the jaunt to Q-765/1b next month?”
Cordelia snorted, and winced as a jab of pain shot through her ribs. “Just as soon as the nano-meds are done.”
“No more Indiana Jane?” He scowled at her.
“I’m a xenozoologist, Morgan, I play with animals. How dangerous can they be?
”© 2006 Jaye Patrick
Labels: Science Fiction