Amy woke up with every nerve ending in her body twitching under her skin. She stared up out of the well of ferns at the leaves waving overhead.
Her head buzzed, her throat felt dry, and she felt like she'd been stung by a hundred wasps.
Everything seemed to be silent and distant. Then she hear the far off sound of the Doctor's voice screaming, "Rory!"
Galvanize, she jerked upright, startling the hunters who'd been rushing toward her.
"We've got to go save them!" She leaped to her feet, ignoring her weak and trembling muscles and pushed through the concerned hunters to glare at the electric fence.
It was defying her, that's what it was doing. It was keeping her from her boys! She noted that none of the ghosts had moved, they apparently hadn't even reacted when she hit the fence. It was an insult, that's what it was!
Suddenly she stopped and looked up at the still, pale ghost floating above her, and realized. THEY COULD DO IT! The idea arrived like a wall of fire. All they had to...
Everything went black.
She came to the second time with a life support unit blinking on her chest, and a ring of concerned faces staring down at her.
"Can you sit up?" Eula asked.
She blinked at him, then accepted the arm he held down to her. She sat up, her hair falling in her face. She looked down at her open shirt.
"The monster got you," Erik said in his gruff voice. "It's a good thing my ipod was still at the original settings." He hadn't let her alter his. "We used it on you."
She blinked up at him. "Thanks." She started to stand up, but he laid a huge hand on her arm.
"What were you thinking?" He beetled hairy eyebrows at her.
She frowned and touched the earpods still tucked in her ears. She sat back down and looked up. Her mind cleared. "The fence!" She turned and looked at it, it was still there, guardians floating impassively.
"I know how we can get through!" she said.
"How?" Bill asked over her shoulder as she and Jute kept watch.
"The fence only knocks you back if you try to go between the ghosts, and the ghosts only react if you touch them. But what if we ran something through that they couldn't stop?" she looked around at their puzzled faces.
"We don't know what their power threshold is," Erik pointed out. "Who knows whether they'd amp the power up until it was fatal."
"Doesn't matter," Amy said, climbing to her feet, wiping leaves off her backside. "They stop attacking when they see a target has been neutralized, they didn't keep going after Eula or Jute or George once they were down."
"What exactly are you proposing?" Darvish asked.
They all started spluttering protests. "You're mad." "That'll never work." "We can't control something that big..."
"Look!" She glared them all down. "The Doctor and Rory are in there, they're unarmed, and in danger. This whole world is in danger," she waved her arms extravagantly. "We can't just stand here and debate!"
She pointed beyond the fence. "If that damned 'monster' can get me in here, then it's still getting people out there too! If something has happened to Rory and the Doctor it's up to us to stop that thing. Now, does anyone else have a better idea?"
They looked at each other, and withered under her glare.
"God, you're stubborn!" Erik crossed his arms over his barrel chest. And for the first time he smiled at her. "My sister would have liked you. She was a smartass, too."
"Well," said Pickles, "if we're going to do this, the first thing we need is to find a Herbivore."
"Right," Erik said, unshouldering his big gun. "Everyone spread out, look for signs of..."
"No need for that," Amy interrupted. She looked up and located Nelda's white hide in the treetops. She thought an image to her, the Trelwin's head went up and she looked around. She climbed higher, eyes casting around, she swung a few trees farther over, then pointed a long white arm.
"You speak Trelwin now?" Erik asked, disbelieving.
Amy grinned smugly at him, crossing her arms. She shrugged. "I'm smart."
"As..ss, has been established," he put an emphasis on the "s" sound. She smirked at him. "Are you done having your epiphany now?" he asked.
She raised her eyebrows at him. "Then can I have my ipod back? Just in case, you know, I get the urge to murder someone."
She pulled off the earphones and handed it back to him with a grin.
"Speaking of that," Darvish said. "Perhaps you'd better readjust half the other ipods back, just in case."
"Uh," Amy said, suddenly biting her lip. "I don't think I can." She grimaced. "I don't remember the original setting."
"So who's smart now?" Erik said under his breath. She smacked him on one beefy arm. He laughed.
Pickles held out his hand. "If I can borrow your toolkit," he said to Amy, "Erik's is still set to the original setting. We can check it and reset the others to match."
Amy and Erik gave each other looks, Darvish ignored them and got everyone else organized while Pickles worked on the ipods; cataloging weapons, getting George and Garon settled, choosing where would be the best spot on the perimeter to aim the Herbivore at, so it wouldn't trample George and Garon on the way.
He looked up at Nelda and she seemed to know what he wanted, because she pointed off into the woods again, slightly north of her previous direction.
Amy was jittering like an ant on a hotplate. "All right," Darvish said with a sigh. "Let's go."
They found the Herbivore placidly chewing on trees, not far north of where they'd seen the last one. In fact, it may have been the same one.
Darvish sent Pickles and Eula back to scout out the clearest route between the Herbivore and the fence. No use trying to herd it through standing trees.
Nelda, Zeke and Chitchi crouched in the high treetops, watching the proceedings.
When the hunters had decided to come into the zone, they'd come prepared. Alongside the general guns and ammunition, they'd also brought along a collection of more esoteric weapons. Each hunter carried something different, ensuring the widest variety, to cover all contingencies.
The Herbivore, completely oblivious to its fate, paid the hunters no more mind than if they'd been rabbits under its feet. Amy looked up at the huge creature. Any one of them could have walked under its belly without ducking their head. And close up the browser smelled of musk and sweat and torn greenery. Dust kicked up with every footfall of the huge hoofs as it ambled from redwood to redwood, casually stripping off lower branches that any one of them could have sat on comfortably.
Pickles and Eula returned. "We've found a route. We marked the trees. Just keep it between the marks!" Eula yelled from ahead.
Darvish nodded and turned. "You heard him. Jute, light him up."
Jute cocked his gun, which was also a flamethrower. He lit the Herbivore's feathery-tipped tail on fire.
The Herbivore chewed placidly. They all backed up, ranging around it, ready to run. It stopped chewing and snuffled the air, the sound like winds in a cavern. Suddenly it jumped straight up and bellowed. It landed with a crash of divoting earth and ran off like, well, like its tail was on fire.
Fortunately it had been aimed in the right direction. Pickles and Eula ran ahead to point out the route. Jute followed behind in case any more incentive was necessary.
Amy stuck close to Bill and Darvish who ran along the left side, lagging behind, while Erik and Eldon took the right. They all sprinted to keep up as the Herbivore thundered through the forest.
Pickles started semaphoring with his arms.
"Right! Turn him right!" Darvish yelled.
"Fire in the hole!" Bill yelled, and threw a grenade. It twirled end over end and exploded beside the beast's left front foot. The beast swerved, tacking onto a new path. The Trelwins swang along overhead, eyes wide at the spectacle.
"Left! Turn it left!" Erik yelled from the other side. There was a burst of machine gun fire and a flash of white from a photon grenade. The Herbivore kept running, churning through the undergrowth, stomping down small trees.
"Turn him!" Erik and Eula both yelled. Amy and Bill ducked around to the other side to lend their support. Amy scooped up a handful of rocks as she ran, it wouldn't do much good against that hide. But if she could throw it in the eye...
Darvish accelerated forward, running right under the beast, his broadax out, he swiped at the front right hamstring, missing by a handbreadth and had to roll aside before he was trampled by the hind feet.
Bill threw another grenade as the Herbivore barreled into thicker brush. The grenade blew a stand of ferns into confetti but didn't deter the Herbivore. Jute shot out a line of flame, but was too far back, managing only to singe the haunch, which turned the Herbivore even farther to the right.
Suddenly Nelda dropped down out of the trees onto the giant bison's head. Chitchi dropped down beside her a few steps later, as the beast mindlessly galloped through the thick tangled jungle as if it wasn't there.
The male Trelwin handed the female a large leaf, three feet broad and no doubt picked off one of the jungle trees. The white female grabbed the leaf stem and leaned down over the jouncing head, holding on to the lumpy felted suede of the head with hands and feet, and dropped the broad leaf over the Herbivore's right eye.
Half blinded, the Herbivore started veering left.
After a few steps it started to slow. Jute fired up its tail again and it bellowed and lumbered forward, still veering left.
Darvish waved a hand at Pickles and Eula, "Find us a path back on course!" The two hunters thumbs upped and ran off.
Bill was still gaping at the white primate leaning over holding a leaf over the Herbivore's eye like some sort of optician's tool.
"Where did she learn to do that?" she asked, trotting to keep up. "I thought she'd lived in the home tree all her life."
Amy shrugged, long legs eating up the ground, boots pounding. "How do you know an elephant can pick up things with its nose?" she asked, obviously. "Maybe she heard about it somewhere."
Bill turned to stare at her, "What's an elephant?"
Darvish trotted up, overhearing. "It's an ancient Earth creature," he said in his best biology professor's voice, keeping an eye open for Pickles and Eula.
"It picks things up with its nose?" Eldon asked.
Pickles and Eula appeared in a couple of trees ahead of them, both semaphoring.
"Straight!" Erik and Darvish both yelled at the same time from opposite sides of the giant beast.
"Amy can you tell Nelda..."
Before Darvish even finished the thought, Nelda raised her leaf and scuttled back to the Herbivore's forehead. The beast straightened out and shook its head, trying to rid itself of the itchy vermin. Chitchi and Nelda held on. The beast staggered under its head shake, everyone scattered out of the way, huge blunt feet rumbling the ground.
Jute applied a little more incentive and the beast leapt forward again bellowing, determined to get away from its tormentors.
The hunters followed, running flat out to keep up, dodging flying debris churned up by the dash through the forest. Amy flagged, then found her second wind. She had to hand it to these hunters, they were certainly in shape.
With Chitchi and Nelda providing the steering, one eye after the other, they soon found themselves bearing down on the glowing light of the ghostly electric fence.
The herbivore tried to slow down, to veer away, but flame, exploding grenades and machine gun fire drove it on. At the last minute Chitchi and Nelda backflipped off of the Herbivore's head, landing in the dust.
It hit the fence with an almighty crash of electricity. Lightning arched. A blinding white light blotted out everyone's vision. The Herbivore keened and struggled.
The entire line of ghosts flashed red and converged. Sliding sidewise like they were on rails. Red ghosts piled on the struggling Herbivore. Lightning crackled, a firestorm. The Herbivore collapsed with a thump like an earthquake.
Everything went still for a moment. The red heap of ghosts lay motionless. The very leaves on the trees seemed to hold their breaths.
Then sound leached back in. The ghosts all faded back to white, slowly sliding back down the fence to their regularly spaced positions. Faces elegant, blank, sleeping.
"Did it work?" Eldon asked into the hush.
The last two ghosts on either side of the Herbivore turned to face each other, and faded to blue.
Darvish's head reared back in suspicion, his eyes flickering back and forth between the blue ghosts, their eyes were closed.
Amy jumped forward, impelled by desperate thoughts of the Doctor and Rory.
"Wait," Darvish grabbed her arm. "Just because it's down, doesn't mean the fence is down. It could just be electrified along with it."
They all stared at the Herbivore. It didn't seem to be smoking, it didn't catch fire, but it also didn't seem to be breathing. The nearest ghosts on either side of the beast hovered silently, misty sapphire blue.
"What does the blue mean?" Jute asked.
"Let's hope it means there's a hole in the fence," Erik said.
Nelda looked back and forth between the humans, who didn't seem to be doing anything. Amy felt a pulse of impatience brush her mind, something other than her own.
Suddenly the ivory white Trelwin turned and loped for the fence, she caught the Herbivore's charred tail and shimmied up, loping across the creatures huge humped back, passing beyond the halfway point where the fence should have been, with no ill effects. She turned to look at them over her shoulder.
"I think that answers that," Amy said, she rushed forward, following Nelda's example, and climbed up one of the Herbivores sprawled back legs, crawled up the hump to its back.
The others followed.
Metal screamed as the tiger raked its claws against the shuttle door, the whole transport lurched as the tree cat gained purchase. The door shrieked, and the reinforcing bar in the flywheel bent as the door started to wrench open.
There was a boom like lightning and the ground shook, a blinding flash of white light blasted through the porthole.
"What was that?" Rory asked.
The rest of the hunters climbed over the bridge of the Herbivore's back. The ghosts ignored them. They entered the dusty clear area inside the perimeter. They quickly checked weapons and headed out in a straggling line following Amy.
As the last of them touched both feet down off the Herbivore's nose, they all collapsed.
For more stories by this author click on "betawho" at the top of the page.
Please take a moment to leave a review. Thank you.