By the time Geoffrey reached the lake on the outskirts of Doltal City, the sun was just past its zenith. From here on out, he realized, time would be his enemy.
For one thing, he had to keep his eye on his oxygen gauge. For another, the longer he was out, the more likely Mom would send a security team from the Human Sector to look for him.
Though Geoffrey suspected that Guneel’s extended family would also be looking for her, he knew he couldn’t count on that. Maybe they were too frightened — a sensation which, as he approached the edge of the lake, he was beginning to empathize with.
“Watch where you’re walking,” he scolded himself. The lake’s crumbling shoreline contained more than a few jagged rocks, not to mention the discarded shells of bivalves, the Doltalyi equivalent of Earth’s freshwater clams.
While Geoffrey was pretty sure his encounter suit was tough enough for most terrains, a single rip might have terrible consequences.
Undeterred, he picked his way down to the spot where the Tractari ship sat, partially buried, among the dark green reedy plants that hugged the water’s edge. Up close, it looked much larger than in Guneel’s telepathic image, which only made sense.
The reptilian Tractari were considerably larger than the Doltalyi. For that matter, an average adult male would likely tower over Geoffrey’s thirteen-year-old frame. Not for the first time, he wished he could just grow up already.
But now, the crunch of heavy boots on gravel, in the near distance, brought Geoffrey’s sulking to a halt. Frantic, he found a large boulder to crouch behind. Trouble was, if he stayed safe, he’d never gather any useful information.
In a flash, he plugged his helmet visor display into a direct data feed from a Doltalyi weather satellite. In spite of himself, Geoffrey smiled as he remembered what Dad had told him, in a rare, lucid moment.
“On a lot of my missions, Standard Protocol just got in the way,” said Dad, “Good thing I’d learned how to jigger my equipment every which way. Otherwise I’d be … I’d be dead by now. Memorize the specs on your suit, G-man — so you know how to bend the rules when you need to.”
With a little more effort, Geoffrey fine-tuned the satellite data feed so he could, effectively, look down on the two large Tractari who were now galumphing toward their lander. He also set his visor to RECORD. But what were the hulking reptilians saying?
“It’s go time, Vrek,” said the taller one. “Sooner we get the hooms off this planet, the sooner we can move in. Right now, it’s sweet. The hooms found the jalidoor deposits, they did the excavation, and we get the profits.”
“Yeah,” said Vrek, the greener of the two reptilians. “Glon and his survey teams have the whole motherlode holomapped, down to three hundred klaars. But Dryf, we got a problem — namely that stupid Doltalyi snoop. Told you we should’ve just let her go.”
“We will,” said Dryf. “Soon as we release the microbes. A couple days later, there’ll be nothing left of the hooms but a big pile of twitching meat. Stinking filth. Think they can lord it over us just because they won a battle 100 cycles ago.”
“Still better make sure the Doltalyi brat doesn’t die on us,” said Vrek. “I don’t like the look of that scab on her back. And I really don’t like getting her blood all up inside of the lander.”
Geoffrey winced. The trouble with learning the truth was coping with it. But what was he thinking? It was time to let everybody on Doltal in on this monstrous plot.
With a few more clicks on his suit’s keypad, he found the comlinks for the Doltal City patrol and the Human Sector security force. He patched them both into his helmet’s recorder and pressed SEND. Soon they’d receive a “delayed broadcast” of everything he’d seen and heard so far.
“Now what?” he wondered. Even if both teams mobilized immediately, who knew if they’d arrive in time to save Guneel? There had to be a way inside that ship.
Then again, if Guneel were unconscious, how could he hope to carry her away? At 1.25 meters long and maybe 43 kilos, that didn’t seem likely. Plus, there was always the chance that moving her could cause her irreparable harm.
Suddenly, an insistent chime from within Geoffrey’s suit made the question of rescuing Guneel moot. His eyes darted to his oxygen gauge and he barely suppressed a scream. In another twenty minutes he’d be finished!
(To be continued)
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