Over the next ten days, I had plenty of time to wonder if my private talk with Trel made any impact on her. At the time, I thought it was obvious that our chances of rescue were unlikely, but instead of realizing she needed to help us survive, she became even more of a recluse. While the rest of us struggled to make our new home, the spider woman spent most of her time sulking in her private quarters.
Despite Trel’s lack of support, we managed to make considerable progress on our fort over those ten days. Sheela and I had spent today lifting the last of the logs onto our walls, and now the shell of our new fort was nearly complete. I was confident we’d have everything finished well before those birds showed up, and I’d almost stopped stressing out about it. We needed to make a door and add a little section of roof, but after that, we’d be move-in ready.
In some ways, I was amazed we’d gotten it done so fast. For every hour we spent constructing the fort it seemed like we devoted another two hours to hiding. It wasn’t unusual to spend short periods of time inside the cave while strange dinosaurs wandered through our grove. Even if they were peaceful herbivores grazing hundreds of yards away, I insisted we stay hidden until we were sure they were gone. That’s when we got super motivated to carve new spears or sharpen the old ones. I was willing to suffer the lost time on the fort as long as we avoided attracting any sort of predators.
But hiding wasn’t the worst of it. To keep on living, we still had to leave the safety of our cave for our daily chores. Sheela and I started each day with a run to the stream where we would fish, hunt, and forage for fruit and berries. We would bring it all back with refills of our water. This ate a good chunk of each morning, even if we didn’t have to hide from dinosaurs or take long detours on our return trips.
Galmine stayed as busy as Sheela and me. Each night we brought in the dull axes from a day of cutting, and she would spend her evening sharpening the blades. We found rocks of the correct shape, so she could make new axe blades to replace any that broke. Every few days we went back to the lake to collect clay for her so she could make more of the specialized water jugs. To top it all off, she’d rip leaves and wrap cord whenever we ran low out on the construction site.
Sheela and I did most of our backbreaking labor in the afternoons. I’d worked out a loose plan to do the job in three phases. Phase one was chopping down sixty trees and then dragging each of them to the job site near the giant sequoia. I had figured each wall would need about 20 six-inch-wide logs stacked on top of each other in order to make a ten-foot tall barricade. It took us about four days to chop and drag them all.
Phase two was stripping the branches off each of the fallen trees so we’d have somewhat straight logs for the walls. It was easier on the hands but there were so many branches that it took another three days of mind-numbing work to get them prepared. We tossed all the trimmed-off wood in a huge pile behind our home sequoia tree, which gave us an appreciation of how much cutting we’d done.
The final phase of the fort entailed stacking all the logs on top of each other and joining them together with our homemade cord. I’d planned to have the walls about ten feet high so that large predators couldn’t hop over them, but we had to stop at seven feet because it became too hard to lift the heavy logs any higher.
We built it to be a lot like a big log cabin without a full roof. Trel was absolutely correct about laying the logs one on top of the next so we kept the digging and hammering of poles to a minimum. We did have to drive in a few smaller support posts on each side of our walls, but her way was much easier than trying to stick all the larger logs into the ground. I tried to compliment her for the design each day, but her replies often included heavier than usual amounts of insults. Now that it was nearly done, I planned to thank her at least one more time.
“We can move in tomorrow,” I said to Sheela while she rested near the corner of the seven-foot wall.
“Have you decided how to attach the fort to the big tree?” Sheela replied.
We used the sequoia as one of our four walls, but there was no way to join the other two walls directly to the thick bark of the giant tree. I had an idea to tie a rope to each side of the fort and then loop it all the way around the base of the trunk as a support. However, it took me thirty paces to walk around the whole thing, meaning we needed over one hundred feet of very strong rope. It would have taken us days to make one long enough.
“We’ll tie each wall to the roots,” I said. “We can do that after we move in. We’ll dig the holes together.” I came up with several other ideas for bracing the walls against the redwood, including some rather crazy ones like carving out stone nails to hold it all together. But after thinking about it for a few days, I realized I didn’t have to tie a rope all the way around the trunk, I only needed to tie around a couple of strong roots. I dug a test hole and discovered the tree’s roots were just below the surface.
“I admit I am glad we do not have to make all that rope,” the sexy feline woman said in her steady voice. “However, we are going to have some hard work digging, so I suppose it all remains in balance.”
“It’s going to be super cool once we have this all done,” I said. “The fort almost looks like it’s a part of the redwood tree, don’t you think?”
“Super cool? It is very hot, Victor.” Sheela looked to the sky as if to check the weather.
“No, in this case I used ‘cool’ to mean something awesome,” I said with laughter. “Our fort looks great. I sure as hell wasn’t suggesting anything on this world is a cool temperature, but I’d love to build us an air conditioning system once we complete the hut part of the fort.”
“Do you think it ever gets cold here?” Sheela replied as she looked over the hot and dusty work site.
“I honestly have no idea,” I answered. “I think dinosaurs lived on Earth in a time when it was much warmer than I’m used to, so maybe the aliens cut and pasted the climate, too. I do know that jungles generally don’t get snow where I come from,” I looked at the big tree next to us, “but the redwoods of California do get snow from time to time. Maybe the aliens can make it snow on us here in the grove, but keep it hot at the jungle lake?” I laughed, though there was no reason to believe they couldn’t.
“We have cold periods on my planet, but it very rarely snows where I live,” Sheela said. “If our lives did not depend on finding plant and animal life to survive, and we had the proper shelter to keep us warm, I think I would enjoy watching peaceful snow in this place.”
“Yeah, I think so too. I’d take almost anything over this oppressive heat.” I wiped my brow with my forearm at the mere mention of being hot and sweaty. The high pines of the towering redwoods provided quite a bit of shade but did little for the humidity.
“Tomorrow we will build the door, anchor it, and then move in?” she asked while pointing to the opening at the corner. Since Trel refused to help, I had to think of how to make a door without massively complicating our simple little fort. If I put it in the middle of one of the twenty-foot long walls like a typical log cabin, we’d have to spend all kinds of time cutting it out. It seemed a lot easier to put the opening on the inside corner of the fort next to the redwood, so there was no cutting involved. All we needed was a bunch of straight pieces of wood to build a door, and I’d already found what I needed on a nearby cedar tree.
“Yep,” I said.
“You took little time to think about it, which is unusual,” she said with a slight smile. “Are you sure?”
Sheela and I had worked closely on the fort since day one, and I’d come to appreciate her dry sense of humor. The cutting, pulling, and stacking was backbreaking labor and left me completely and utterly dead each night, but it was made bearable because she saw the positive in most things and always seemed to nudge my spirits when they were low. I’d been saying “we can move in tomorrow” for a few days now because problems kept delaying the big event.
“Yes, I think tomorrow we will finally, without a doubt, move in,” I declared. “I want to use a bunch of straight cedar branches, so it is extra strong. I saw one of those trees down the hillside, so we’ll just have to cut the branches off.” Sheela and I had been talking about the door ever since we set the wall back a couple of feet from the tree, but there was no point cutting it down until we were ready for it. I’d been saving it kind of as a celebratory final piece of our fort “empire.”
“Your fort looks pathetic, Victor!” Trel said just loud enough to be heard from forty yards away as she stood near the top of the ramp. She loved to pop out of the cave every so often to critique my work.
“I was beginning to think she’d forgotten about me today,” I said in a muffled voice to Sheela. It was already late afternoon and Trel hadn’t said a word since the start of the day, but that was fine because her complaints were getting repetitive and less creative. I was tempted to shout back and ask Trel why her sisters weren’t showing up, but even though she had it coming, it would have been a douchey move to rub it in her face.
“Do not worry about her,” Sheela replied. “I think your fort looks great.”
“Our fort,” I corrected her. I’d been planning for and building the fort almost every waking moment for ten days, but I couldn’t have done it without her and Galmine.
“Hi, guys!” Galmine called from her spot next to Trel. She spent a lot of time at the top of the ramp acting as our lookout and water supplier. Her cheerleader-like support was an extra benefit to having her around, and it was the rock woman’s little way of countering Trel’s negative vibes.
I waved back to her and couldn’t help but smile approvingly.
“All right, Sheela,” I said as I pointed back into the forest. “Let’s go get that door built while there is still time in the day. If we are lucky, we can get it attached tonight, and then we can work on the hut tomorrow and move in before nightfall.”
“I will see it when I believe it,” she said; flubbing one of the phrases she’d heard me say recently.
“Follow me,” I replied as I snagged my axe and spear. Carrying both weapons was now second nature everywhere we went. I still wanted to craft a bow and arrow, but there was no time for new projects until the fort was off our plate. Sheela had also mentioned creating slings, improved rock-tipped spears, crossbows, and something called an atlatl. We couldn’t decide if that last one was a real word or something the translator couldn’t convert from her language, but she described it as a piece of wood you held in your hand to better throw spears.
We walked about a hundred yards along the base of the hill until we reached a patch of green cedars standing together a little up the slope. I guided Sheela to the large cedar tree I’d found earlier, and we stood under the ladder-like branches, so I could point out the correct size I wanted for the door.
“Those branches are all perfectly straight and about as thick as my arm,” I explained while pointing to my targets about ten feet up. “We’ll cut a bunch down and tie them together.”
“I trust you to see pieces of a door up there,” Sheela said in such a way I was unable to tell if that was a joke or her being serious.
“Hold my spear,” I said while handing it to her. I jammed my axe handle inside my belt, so it wouldn’t fall out during my ascent. Then I grabbed the first branch just over my head and pulled myself up. From there I was able to shimmy the rest of the way into the limbs. I was surprised how easy the climb was. Ten days of axe-swinging had given me a little extra muscle to pull off the climb without complaint.
That made me think about my stats. It was fucking weird to think of myself as a character inside a game, but the aliens somehow translated my strength and movement into statistics, so maybe the values changed since I’d discovered them.
I pulled up the Eye-Q and tapped on my name.
Special Skill: TAME - Level 2.
Hell yeah. Just like going to the gym, the hard work eventually paid off. My strength had gone from a 3 to 4. But I didn’t know what my player character stats meant in real life. I didn’t feel any stronger, but climbing this same tree back on earth would definitely have been harder. Would I have to run a marathon to get my movement stat to go up?
I hung in the tree and paged through the Eye-Q until I remembered my mission.
I pulled out my axe and checked below to see if Sheela was clear of falling debris. I was surprised to see her smiling back up at me.
“What is it? Is my underwear showing?” I called down.
“No, well, it is a little,” she said matter-of-factly. “But I was only noting how your muscles have improved since I first met you. You are no longer as weak as you used to be. I like that.”
“The 4 instantly pays off,” I whispered to myself. I was thankful I wasn’t getting weaker, but I did find it a little embarrassing she’d noticed my unhealthy Strength: 3 condition in the first place. Instead of an active lifestyle back home, I’d excelled at fast food, driving my car to work, driving my truck at work, and then coming home to spend hours a day in my gaming chair. I still had my natural muscle tone from playing soccer in high school, chasing animals around backyards, and doing a little surfing, but I’d come to Dinosaurland looking a bit out of shape.
“What does the number four--” Sheela started to say.
She whipped her head to look at something up the hill. She crouched with her spear in hand and took a few tentative steps forward. I couldn’t see anything beyond the dense canopy of the cedar.
“What is it?” I asked a moment later.
“You have to see this,” Sheela said in an insistent voice. I hopped to the next lowest branch, then I dropped the final six feet with a heavy thump on the ground. I stood up just in time to catch the spear Sheela had tossed to me.
“What’s happening?” I asked a moment before I saw flashes of movement on the hillside above us. “Oh, shit.”
I saw what had her worried.
A handful of small golden dinosaurs ran along the hill about fifty yards above us. They adjusted their directions as if they shared the same brain, which made me think of them as a flock. However, they were generally headed to our left, which would take them right past the cave.
A strange female voice shouted my name from far away.
“Victor! Sheela! Help!” The voice was so unusual it took a second to place it as Trel’s. She was always dramatic and intense, but I’d never heard her say anything at that volume. A reply lodged in my throat while my heart rate soared and my adrenaline spiked.
“Something’s going on back there. We have to help Trel. Run, Sheela!” I took a few half-steps to ensure she would follow and then ran faster when she caught up to me. My heart blasted into the red zone as I sprinted that hundred yards. Sheela got a little ahead of me because she had longer legs and better conditioning.
“Oh, shit!” I said with shock.
Something white ran by my left side like I was standing still. It was about the size of a German Shepard with a meaty three-foot tail. My first impression was it was related to the green raptors I knew from the beach, but this one was smaller and covered in downy white feathers. More importantly, it didn’t stop to eat me.
A few seconds later two other white dino-birds ran by, and I snapped one with my Eye-Q to see what we were dealing with. It flashed a picture of the animal’s outline and displayed the name. It said Identification: Dinosaur, Saurornitholestes Langstoni, female. I knew for sure was that they weren’t the same type as the featherless dinosaurs up on the hill, nor were they the same as the shark-man killers from the beach.
The bird dinosaurs reached the ramp of the cave well ahead of us, but they ran right by it without pausing. The golden dinos up on the hillside also ran past the cave without stopping.
“What the hell is happening here?” I called to Sheela as we both arrived at the rocky area below the entrance of our cave.
“Victor! Help us! A dinosaur is in the bushes by the ramp!” Galmine called from up in the cave. She wasn’t outside, which was good, but I finally saw what made her and Trel scream for help.
A member of a third species of dinosaur thrashed wildly in the head-high bushes and small trees just next to the ramp. He was about the size of a horse and had greasy black feathers, a long neck, and crazy-long claws. It came across as a strange mix of sloth, bird, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex. My Eye-Q tagged him as a male Erlikosaurus. It appeared as if he’d come down the hill from above the cave, lost his footing, and tumbled into the bushes where we now saw him scrambling to get free.
Though Trel and Galmine had gone back into the cave, but the ungainly creature flailed and clawed his way in their direction. He was already about halfway there, and he was bulky enough to crush the wood barrier blocking the cave, so I had to take the initiative.
Before I could do anything, a couple more white-feathered dinosaurs ran past us screeching and whistling like they wanted those ahead to wait up for them. Far into the grove more of the white fast-movers ran after the others.
Something big was going on down at the lake, and it was coming this way.
“We have to stop him from getting into the cave,” I said while breathing heavily. Whatever was going on in the forest, my primary concern was only for the black nightmare at our front door. My pulse quickened at the thought of tangling with something that large, but there were no alternatives.
The black dinosaur used his claws to slice through some remaining bushes and made it back to his feet. When he looked down and saw us, he seemed to lose traction on the rocks and slipped a bit. I couldn’t read his mind, but it was almost as if he was daring us to stop him from going up the hill. He honked an off-key trumpet roar that sounded more like a cow’s than a proper dinosaur.
“I will search for a spot to attack it!” Sheela yelled as she jumped into the bushes on the right side of the creature. I ran a few paces to his far side and got into the undergrowth a moment later.
I had no idea why the sloth dinosaur was so close to our cave. Maybe it stumbled in by accident. Maybe it smelled Galmine and Trel and wanted a snack. Maybe it needed a new place to live. All I knew for certain is that it had to be stopped, so I moved toward it with my spear in hand. I soon realized the tangled bushes and numerous rocks made it very difficult for the dino to climb up the thirty-foot slope.
Sheela grunted just as her spear came rifling out of the bushes and into the creature’s flank. He trumpeted in shock but did not fall over dead as I’d hoped. In fact, I had to hop away from his tail because the crazed beast shifted to keep his injured side away from Sheela. It was a behavior I recognized from animals back home, but this wasn’t some pet. This was a monster that could rip me in half with a flick of its massive claws.
I was presented with a prime opportunity to chuck my spear into the injured side of the beast, but I couldn’t orient the long javelin from inside all the branches. I hovered there for a second before deciding I was already too close to those claws.
“Get out of there, Sheela!” I shouted while letting myself slide a bit off the slope. “I have another idea. I’m going to attack him from above.”
“I will try,” she replied over a constant string of howls from the injured beast.
I waited until I saw her run out of the bushes carrying her axe, and then I scurried onto the ramp about two-thirds of the way to the cave. I didn’t want to lead the thing into our home, but I did need to get a little above the black-feathered creature so I could throw my spear from outside the bushes. He yelped and howled as he crushed branches and kicked rocks during his struggle up the slope. The hill wasn’t very steep, but it narrowed toward the cave, and the bushes made it difficult for such a large dinosaur to climb.
My hands got sweaty holding my spear as the ugly sloth-dinosaur neared. The head itself looked a little like a small T-Rex or possibly a Velociraptor, except the end of his jaw was a funky bird’s beak. The back half of his mouth was full of teeth, but the beak part of the mouth had none.
His eight-inch claws looked plenty deadly.
The safest way to fight him was to stay as far away as possible. Sheela didn’t kill him with her weapon, so I doubted mine would do the job. On the other hand, if I could use my Tame skill before he got up onto the ramp maybe he’d leave without any danger to myself or the others. I could use the spear as a last resort.
I steeled myself to use my Tame skill on him and peered into one of his large black eyes. Tame worked on Jinx by getting close and doing the same thing. I’d missed my opportunity with those trikes, and building the fort left no time for finding new dinosaurs, so I was more than ready to give it another try.
For two seconds the Erlikosaurus seemed frozen in place, and I had the perfect opportunity to commune, or convince, or whatever I did to bend him to my will. During that time, I conveyed the idea I was a friend.
“Sit still,” I ordered in a firm voice. I prayed my Tame skill was working but the Eye-Q refused to confirm my success. The moment of pause broke, and the dino whipped his tail around and scrambled closer to me.
“Halt!” I shouted as I tried to reinforce the verbal command with a mental one. I took a couple of steps back on the ramp to give Tame another second or two, but the only place left to go was inside the cave, and I’d die before I let that happen.
The beast rose up higher and I saw the patch of red blood just under his left wing where he’d somehow broken off Sheela’s spear.
“Stop! Damn you,” I shouted as he tried to swat me with the deadly claws attached to his feathery arms. I had to accept Tame wasn’t working, and that I was in danger of royally screwing the pooch if I let him get up onto the ramp. I had a second to think how great it would have been to defuse the bomb on our doorstep with just words, but I was ready with my backup plan.
It was time to kill a dinosaur.
I lowered my spear and tried to thrust it into the feathery chest looming right in front of me. Despite planting my feet and getting pretty good power, the spear didn’t sink in. Instead, it glanced along his feathers and went under one of his arms. The reaction from the bird-sloth was to clamp down on the wooden pole, and the pressure almost ripped the spear right out of my hands.
Most days it would be impossible for me to tip over any animal weighing as much as this dinosaur, but he was already on slanted terrain and standing on loose rock. The idea was pure insanity, but with the spear entangled in his claws and arms, it gave me a brief opportunity to push the sloth dino right back over the edge.
“Fuck you!” I blurted out.
I pushed the spear sideways into his stomach as hard as I was able and felt the dino begin to tip away. My heart jumped into my mouth when a claw hooked my sleeve and tried to drag me along, so I let go of my weapon and shook my arm free. I stood on tip-toe right at the edge of the ramp and watched as the tar-colored beast slid back into the bushes he had tried so hard to escape. A second later I was able to step on firm ground, jam my heart back down my throat, and consider what to do next.
Sheela had been running to catch up to me and almost reached my spot on the ramp as the dino tumbled away. The look of surprise on her face probably matched my own.
“We have the high ground to kill it,” I said as I ran to the turnstile.
“Galmine, toss out some spears!” I looked inside to confirm she heard me.
“Here you go, Victor!” the rock woman cried out. A few seconds later she tossed spear after spear through the branches of our door as fast as she was able.
Sheela and I soon picked up eight between the two of us, though more were coming out. Galmine was prepping us for a long fight, but I wanted to end this as quickly as possible. Whatever was driving the forest crazy was a bigger threat than this one dinosaur.
“We have enough. You ready?” I asked Sheela.
“I am, now,” she replied.
Together we started down the ramp to see where the sloth creature tumbled. I quickly established that he hadn’t gone very far and was struggling on his side next to and below the ramp. He looked up the hill instead of down, which was kind of funny because he could have easily escaped simply by going into the grove.
It reaffirmed my decision to kill the beast, and we had the perfect position from which to throw our spears.
Sheela yelled and threw hers right into the exposed chest of the Erlikosaurus. It sank deep into the feathers just like her other attack. Using her example, I aimed one of my spears and threw with as much power as I could summon. Mine flew true for ten feet and sank into the prone body.
“Fuck, yeah!” I shouted as I felt the euphoria of combat course through my muscles.
Sheela threw a second spear, and it pierced the dino’s feathers very close to her previous hit. My second throw was a bit off and stabbed the flailing tail instead of the main part of his body. I was miffed at missing his core, but our other shots seemed to be having an effect on the beast. He was noticeably less aggressive, and I watched for a few seconds as he seemed to give up trying to get to his feet.
I threw my last two spears, but they both missed. It was clear the dinosaur was a goner, and my testosterone-fueled battle focus was subsiding like air from a tire.
“Hey Sheela, let’s get more spears,” I said while glancing at the empty space where she’d previously been standing. When I looked up the ramp, I saw her already coming back down with eight more of our weapons.
“You read my mind,” I said when she arrived. “We have to kill him and then get back inside.”
“Aim for his wounds,” she advised.
I tried to maintain my battle intensity as I aimed and struck the beast a few more times. It felt like shooting fish in a barrel, but there was no room for sympathy anymore. I couldn’t think of dinosaurs like lost dogs back in Los Angeles. These ancient reptiles were built to kill and eat meat, and we were the meat. I’d already been too close to those eight-inch claws while I tried to tame him, and I didn’t ever want to do that again. If I had the option to stand on the high ground and pelt him with flying spears, I was going to take it. I needed to protect myself and the women who put their lives in my hands.
I grunted on my next throw just like Sheela always did. It was probably imaginary, but I felt that it gave a little extra oomph as my spear sailed true. In a few short seconds, we’d each thrown two more spears right into the gut of the black-feathered dino-bird. There was no way he was ever getting up.
“I think we’ve killed him,” I said breathlessly after all our exertion.
“Victor, you have done well.”
“Thanks, Sheela.” I smiled at the beautiful blonde woman. “Let’s go check on Galmine and Trel. I want to make sure they are okay.”
“That is a good plan,” Sheela agreed, and we moved back up the ramp to our cave entrance.
I was sure something was driving those birds, but the forest appeared calm now, and we made it back up the ramp without any surprises.
“Let’s get these spears back inside, okay?” I said with a smile as I looked one last time at the dead dino that was lying in our front yard.
“Yes. I will get the others, later,” Sheela agreed with a satisfying hint of heavy breathing as we collected the last few spears Galmine had tossed out. I was still unable to catch my breath after the scrambling and running, and I was glad I wasn’t the only one left breathless by our fight.
Galmine was waiting for us at the open door.
“Oh, Victor. I’m so glad you and Sheela are okay. You were so brave pushing it over the edge like that,” the rock-skinned woman said as she motioned us to come inside.
“Nah, it was nothing. You helped kill it when you got us those spears,” I said with a smile. “I may have pushed it away from the cave, but it took the whole team to kill it.”
“Aww,” Galmine said as she brought her hands up to her chest. The adoration in her eyes was apparent, and I forced myself to look away before I checked her out again.
Sheela and I pulled at the barrier to secure the cave. My lungs continued to demand more air, but I was pleased my breathing was coming back to normal much faster than it did two weeks ago. By the time we had the turnstile in place my breathing was just about back to baseline.
“What’s going on out there?” Galmine said once the gate was closed.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “All those bird-dinos ran by, but now it seems to have quieted down again. I’m not sure what that means.”
“We were worried sick about you,” the silver-haired woman added.
“Not we. Just her. I had no doubt Sheela would return,” Trel said in a tempered voice. “Though I suppose what you did to protect us was mildly useful.”
“I’m glad to see you, too,” I said with legitimate happiness. The spider-woman stood on her human legs at the far side of the fire, but I couldn’t overlook the fact that she also held a spear in her hand for the first time since I’d known her.
“And thanks for watching out for Galmine, Trel,” I motioned to the spear. “By calling us home, you might have saved her life.” I’d figured out the best way to interact with Trel was to douse her in compliments.
“What? Oh, this?” Trel seemed to notice her spear as if someone had sneaked it into her hand. “I needed this to tend the fire. I am very hot inside this cave today and wanted to adjust the coals from a distance.”
I didn’t point out she was currently standing right next to the hot fire, or that there were no burns on the end of the spear. She and I both knew what she’d done.
After Trel said her piece, I noticed Galmine was still watching me with admiration. She wore the biggest smile I’d ever seen on her, which was saying a lot. Her large green eyes had a curious sparkle and the way she looked at me bordered on feral. Her simulated bathing suit was now just a faint outline, and I got the feeling she was undressing me with those emerald beauties.
“Victor, I have something for you,” Galmine said as she stepped closer to me. Her perfume enveloped me as she put her arms around my neck. As soon as her hands were on the back of my neck, she pulled me down to her face.
“Do tell,” I replied while desperate to sound nonchalant. I knew what she had in mind because we joked about it every night. After that first encounter standing guard at the cave entrance, she made it clear what she wanted from me. However, each night after that we had to push it back in the face of exhaustion, stress, and the business of staying alive. Galmine seemed to thrive on our sexual tension, and though she often teased me during those night shifts, she never took it any further.
“You saved my life,” Galmine said. “You always make me feel safe. You watch over me even though I’m not yours to take care of--”
“That’s not why--” I tried to reply.
“This is the one time when I’m going to tell you what to do, Victor,” she said with a playful grin.
“You are a giver,” the stone woman continued. “I’ve watched you give and give since you got here. The water. The food. The fort. You’ve helped Sheela and me stay alive without asking anything in return. You even refused my advances in those first days, do you remember?” Her lips pursed together as she flashed me a fake pout.
“I do,” I admitted. I’d steered away from all talk of sex so I didn’t distract myself from the more important task of staying alive. However, each time I did that, I paid the price by walking around with a tent in my pants. The flirtatious Galmine loved to call me out on it. I figured it was the cost of doing business with three beautiful women and it was all worth it since it kept them alive.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about this for a while because it is not the way of my people to give themselves to only one person,” Galmine said while getting even closer to my lips. “But after what I just saw you do, I’m done thinking about it. I’m yours, Victor. I’m yours in every way a woman and a man of your world can be together. It’s your reward for all your hard work to keep me alive. Now, I want you to let me take care of you in return.” She looked up at me as if desperate for me to say yes.
I had a confusing burst of emotions, but there was no denying I’d wanted to accept her proposition since that first night at my guard post. I leaned in the last few inches and she met my kiss with a skilled tongue. Her body moved closer to mine, and she pressed her breasts up against my chest while she continued her eager kiss. A moment later my dick rode up against her stomach, and she moaned when she felt it press against her skin.
She roughly pushed me away, but didn’t release me.
“I want you right now, Victor,” she whispered while pointing next to the fire. “Right here.”
There was no denying I wanted her, too. God, I’d wanted to fuck each of these three women since the moment I’d arrived. Before that, I’d wanted to fuck Lacey and every girl at her pool party. Sheela said I’d tamed myself here, but my restraint was at the breaking point.
“We can’t, Galmine. God knows I want to, but the dinosaurs outside--
“There will always be dinosaurs outside,” she interrupted me. “They can wait an hour or two.” She flashed me a playful wink.
“Trel and Sheela are standing right here,” I said as I gestured to the other two women. It felt all sorts of weird to have the others in the cave while Galmine talked about becoming my lover.
“They can watch--” Galmine started to say.
“Disgusting!” Trel cried out. “I don’t want to see that. You will not engage in such animal behavior in this cave.”
“Perhaps you can use the alcove?” Sheela suggested as she pointed to Trel’s room. “I can wait outside.”
“May we have privacy behind your curtain, dear Trel?” Galmine said in a courteous but urgent voice.
“And sully my living space? Absolutely not! I forbid it!” Trel forcefully stated with her own brand of tenacity.
I chuckled at the whole thing. I would love nothing more than to “sully” her quarters after how she’d treated me all this time, but even my rock-hard boner wouldn’t allow me to be a dick to her. I searched the cave for an alternative even though I knew privacy was impossible.
Sheela was near the barrier and it looked like she was preparing to leave, but seeing the feline warrior made me rethink that dumb idea with my leader’s brain. I really needed to focus on the task at hand. I did want to have sex with Galmine, but it was going to have to wait until I was done with our new fort, or we had some privacy.
Galmine turned my head so I faced her again.
“Just take me, Victor,” she said in a sultry beg of a voice. “We are all adults here. I need to be yours. I want to be yours. I don’t care if our friends watch. They can even participate if they want to.”
“Uhh, no, and ewww,” Trel said, but I noticed that the spider-woman hadn’t stepped away from us.
I had to fight the primal urge.
As a leader with strange shit going down outside our cave, I knew having sex right now was just fucking wrong. As a twenty-one-year-old male with almost two weeks of time served in the company of smoking hot babes, I was--
My indecision was interrupted as the Eye-Q flashed an update. I smiled at Galmine and pulled her face against my neck, so I could take a moment to read it. The Assets tab flashed on the main screen. When I clicked in, I saw some new information.
The “1” after Women was flashing, so I touched it and navigated to the next screen. It was a simple text message which said: Woman added: Galmine.
I smiled at the implications of it and gently pushed the silver-haired woman off my chest, so I could look in her eyes again. I was going to mention the computer, but when I saw those hungry green orbs and wet lips, I lost the ability to speak and instead pulled her in for another kiss. I fell into the moment and savored Galmine’s sweet-tasting mouth to the point I lost track of how long we were standing there.
“Victor,” Sheela finally called to get my attention.
I opened my eyes and stopped kissing the warm granite-woman. Galmine smiled but didn’t try to stop me, and I admired her for an extra second because she was so beautiful.
I noticed Jinx running in circles back by his woodpile, and I got the sense he was also attempting to get my attention.
“Victor, there is something out there,” Sheela added before I could reply to her first attempt.
“Hang on,” I said while scraping myself from Galmine and walking the few steps to the front entrance. “What do you see?”
“Not see, hear,” Sheela relayed while appearing to strain as she listened. “There is something big coming this way.”
I didn’t hear or see anything outside until one of the white birds ran through the grove on the far side of the fort.
“Is that what you heard?” I pointed at the distant bird.
“No,” Sheela said a little dramatically, “it is still approaching.”
“I feel it,” Trel remarked in a quiet voice. “She’s right. Something’s coming. The ground is vibrating.”
I couldn’t hear or feel anything unusual, so I was unsure how to plan for it. I didn’t feel very much like a leader, especially because the two women could sense the danger, but I could not. While I was enjoying Galmine’s affection, I wasn’t thinking about dinosaurs, guarding the cave, or building our fort, and as a result, I’d put everyone in danger. Who was I kidding by thinking I could run off with her like a horny teenager?
“I don’t--” I started to say, but I did hear a new sound, and I strained my ears. It was a distant rumble like a freight train passing through the other side of town.
And it was undoubtedly getting louder.
“Look. More animals are fleeing,” Sheela said as she pointed to the grove. Packs of the white birds ran the same way as all those before them. Smaller multi-colored flying birds also flew from tree to tree as if they were searching for one where they’d be safe. A line of five or six more of those golden dinosaurs ran right by the fort, moving to our right like all the rest. I tried to get an ID on those goldens, but the Eye-Q didn’t return any data.
“This isn’t over,” I said with growing dread.
The rumble got louder with each second and everyone but Trel stood at the barrier to watch outside. As we peered between the gaps in the branches, Galmine grabbed my arm and slung it over her shoulder so she could lean against me.
I pulled her tight against me as the noise continued to build.
“It sounds like an avalanche,” I said in an increasingly loud voice, though the idea was insane. The nearest mountain I knew about was the volcano, and that was miles from our cave.
“Or a spaceship,” Trel said as she joined us at the door. “It could be my sisters!” she yelled above the din.
I looked over at Trel and smiled because I hoped she was right. A giant fucking rescue ship with thrusters and shit blowing down trees and catching things on fire would perfectly explain why the birds and small dinos were fleeing.
All four of us stood at the exit while waiting for confirmation of some sort. I’d gotten a little excited at the prospect of rescue even though I’d given up on the idea a long time ago. Trel’s joyous face, combined with that unusual disturbance, gave me hope it was possible to leave this hellish world.
“There!” Sheela shouted as she pointed down into the grove.
I saw it, too, but gave a sideways glance at Trel to watch as her demeanor flip-flopped from happy to sad.
“A stampede!” Sheela added.
A horde of gray-skinned dinosaurs moved together inside a tumbling cloud of dust and debris. Several huge trikes ran at the front of the pack as if using their horns and wide crests as snow plows. The dinos further back were harder to pick out from inside the fast-moving dust cloud. I caught sight of some of those funny-shaped tubular crests, there were also a few Brontosaurus-looking long necks, and dozens of ostrich-like dinos trotted along the fringes.
The roar from clomping feet was deafening, and it shook the ground so much that it felt like we were standing among them. Galmine pushed up against me as we both experienced the rattle of rock under our feet.
One of the white-feathered dinos fell from above the cave, crashed onto our doorstep, and then bounded down the ramp toward the passing stampede. A moment before it reached the other runners, a massive red-scaled predator lunged from the dust cloud and snatched it mid-jump. The white bird fought for a few frantic seconds, but it still ended up crushed by the powerful jaws of the much larger dinosaur.
I leaned on the turnstile and tried to get the clearest line of sight to the new reptilian monster. This time the Eye-Q gave me an answer right away.
“Identification: Dinosaur, Carnotaurus sastrei, male.”
As I celebrated capturing intel from such a long distance, the new dino dropped the bird and seemed to look our way. It was as if a bull mated with a crocodile and then took on the general shape of a two story building with teeth. The rigid scales and bumps on his back were very much like a crocodile. His tiny forearms were a lot like a Rex, but they were so much smaller I almost missed them. Finally, his burnt red scales and two stubby devilish horns reminded me of a bullfighter’s worst nightmare.
It was a fucking huge, angry, and its eyes looked hungry.
Could it see us through the branches and leaves of the barrier? Should I clear everyone from the door, or would that movement get his attention? I stayed frozen while the carnotaurus made up its mind.
As the stampede shuffled along, the trailing plume of dust got larger and closer to the cave opening. The horned dinosaur took a few steps our way just as the arriving tide of debris really started to blow in. I still didn’t allow myself to move, though I almost pissed myself when I saw several other carnotaurus appear in the grove. Most continued to chase the main stampede, giving us the answer to what caused it, but at least one more joined the curious male hanging out below our cave. The dust blew through the door before I could see where they went.
“Holy shit, this is crazy!” I said even though no one could hear me.
Sheela remained near the tree-barrier as sheets of dust blew in her face. Our gate remained closed, but she held her spear as if one of the devil-dinos was about to break through. I watched her for a moment and then launched into a fit of coughing as the dust kept coming.
I guided Galmine away from the door and sat her down at the fire. It was still too noisy to talk, so I smiled to keep her calm. I then got a spear off our weapons rack and stood next to Sheela.
The roar of the stampede finally began to lessen as it moved away. The dust remained thick, though, so there was no way to know what was still outside. At least two of those predators were down there, but I had some hope they got caught up in the dust and moved on.
I stifled my coughing as a carnotaurus howled from very close by.
The roar was loud enough to make our cave shake.
Adrenaline spilled out into my body as Sheela and I both took a step backward. The acoustics of the cave made sound difficult to pin down, and the dust made it even worse, but the dino seemed no farther than the bottom of the ramp.
I glanced at the frightened Galmine and wanted to walk back over and console her, but I saw Trel standing beside the fire with her spear ready, and I turned back to protect the door.
The carnivore roared again, and it practically stole air from my lungs. Another howl responded to it from not far away. I held up two fingers to Sheela, and she responded with a nod, and then we both took a few more steps back so we were next to Trel and Galmine at the fire. The flimsy barrier was great against birds and flappy pterodactyls, but the big meat-seeking carnotaurus could probably pick it apart with ease. The more relevant question was whether the big hunters could fit through our door.
We listened for a couple of minutes as the second predator got closer to its friend. I didn’t think I could summon any additional fear inside me, but when they came together, they howled and barked back and forth like they were talking. I imagined them discussing the best way to storm our cave and pluck us out. One of them ended their food discussion by bellowing for five seconds like it had won the coin toss.
“Oh, fuck,” I whispered while pushing my warrior friend behind me. “Sheela, back up. They’re coming.” If giant carnivores punched through that door, they were going to meet me first.
I clenched my spear in a death grip and pointed it forward. My racing heart stole all the blood from my brain and directed it to my muscles as part of my fight response. I got tunnel vision as I focused completely on the swirl of dust just outside the turnstile. But the dinos didn’t plow through right away, and it took several minutes of tense anticipation before I accepted they weren’t coming at all.
The predators continued to growl and shriek, but I heard the distinct snap of giant teeth, too. That went on for a couple of minutes before everything got silent out there. In the lull, I managed to step a few paces toward the barrier before one of the dinos belted out another of its huge roars. It was no less scary, but I could tell by the echo the dinosaur was no longer right outside our cave.
The sounds of the stampede were much reduced as well. It was once again a distant freight train and heading in the appropriate direction away from us. The stampede’s smoke trail was settling, but it still hadn’t entirely dissipated.
It seemed prudent to wait until the air was clear before doing anything outside the cave. Even if it trashed our workflow for the rest of the day.
“They are leaving,” Sheela said as she stepped next to me again.
I pulled off my hat and ran my fingers through my wet hair to calm my nerves. My heart rate would probably remain on high alert until the day I left this planet, either by spaceship or in a body bag. It didn’t come down at all as I watched the dust outside.
“I thought for sure they saw us. Do you think they’ll come back?” I quietly asked our resident hunter.
“I do not know. Maybe their vision is not that good, or they were looking at something else,” Sheela said thoughtfully.
There was nothing else out there except the dino sloth’s body.
“I bet they saw the dino we already killed and thought it was easy pickin’s,” I said as if processing Sheela’s suggestion.
“It was a hunting party,” Sheela said with clinical detachment. “The carnivores banded together to cause the stampede and take down whatever they could. If the dust had arrived a minute sooner, they might have missed our kill and kept after the main herd. It was bad luck.”
“They have better luck than Victor, that’s for sure,” Trel suggested with sarcasm.
I didn’t have any appropriate comebacks inside me. I was coming off my adrenaline rush, and I steadied my shaking body by leaning against the wall. I kept it low-key by pretending to need to catch my breath, since Trel was the last person I wanted to see me having any weakness.
“Thank you for what you did,” Sheela began in a low voice, “but we can fight better side-by-side.” She was no doubt talking about how I whipped out the chivalry and stepped in front of her when we were waiting for the carno’s to rip through our makeshift gate.
“I’m not sure why I did that,” I said. “I know you fight better than me, but I wanted to take the edge off whatever was going to attack us, so you could keep them safe.” I motioned back to Trel and Galmine. “But I’ll resist it the next time, so we can fight together.”
“We are alive,” the blonde warrior continued. “You fought skillfully against the black-feathered dinosaur. I can see why Galmine feels as she does.” Her strong eyes were unusually soft.
“Thank you. Seriously. You got me out of that tree and beat me back to the cave to help fight off the intruder. The victory belongs to us both.” My body was starting to level out from all the excitement, and I felt exhausted.
Sheela and I stared outside until the dust settled. We could hear the two carnotaurus moving away with their incessant howling; like a pair of self-obsessed teens. A little later, the air quality improved enough that we could see the nearest trees in the redwood grove, including the ground around them.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I spat out as my heart tumbled into my stomach.
“No, no, no, nooo,” Sheela added with a long groan. “This took us ten days.”
The fort was toast.
I imagined it had been picked up by a tornado, slammed against the redwood, and then dropped fifty feet away. The tidy square fort should have been on the left side of our sequoia, but it was now a long pile of logs on the right, as if someone wiped an ugly blotch of paint across the forest clearing. A fifty-yard swath of destruction ran left and right through the grove, and it ripped up or beat down anything green on the ground and knocked over many of the smallest trees. The fort was just a small part of all the damage.
Galmine and Trel both joined us at the gate to look at the devastation. The rock-woman gasped when she saw the wreck, but Trel surprised me again by keeping her mouth shut. Instead, she quietly walked away.
I felt the weight of ten full days of labor flushing right down the crapper. We could rebuild it in probably half the time because all the logs were cut and shaped, but damn it was going to be a bitch to do it all again. And then what if another stampede came through?
“I, uh, know this looks bad,” I began in a calm voice, “but if my mom were here, she would remind me to focus on the fact no one got hurt. If Sheela and I had been down there when the place went nuts, we might have been trampled or eaten. So that’s a good thing. We weren’t injured fighting the black-feathered dinosaur, and we got lucky about six different times. So that’s awesome. And those big predators didn’t try to sneak through our door, which I’m calling an epic win.”
I hoped my words didn’t sound hollow. I’d often heard the term “fake it till you make it,” and now I felt like I was living those words. This was really bad, and I had to blink a few times to keep the tears out of my eyes.
“I’ll help in any way I can,” Galmine said with teary eyes and a brave smile. “I was just so looking forward to being out there in our new home.”
“Hey, we’ll be out there in no time. I promise,” I replied with a voice as upbeat as I could make it. “I’ve had a lot of time to plan while building our fort. I’ve thought about all the commands I’ve given to Jinx, and I think now is the time to tame a real dinosaur to help us. Something big like a triceratops or one of those crest-topped guys. That way we can drag more logs, dig bigger holes, and make the fort stronger than the last one. This is a setback, but it just means we have to go big to get it done in time.” I felt a bit more confident as the words came from my mouth. A big dinosaur could really help us build a new fort.
All I had to do was tame one.
“This is but one more challenge from this world,” Sheela said. She sounded down but far from beaten.
“Yeah, see. We lost some stuff, but big deal. As long as we’re alive, things aren’t as bad as they could be.” I didn’t mention that we had less than twenty days before the orange birds were coming to kick us out. “We’ll go get a big dinosaur and use it to help us do big stuff. We’ll rebuild the camp better the second time. I think a trike would work.”
“Why bother?” Trel called from her curtained area. The partition was open, and I turned to see the spider-woman’s back was turned to us.
“We have to do something to try and survive,” I said as I walked toward Trel’s private alcove. I stopped a foot or so from her curtain, and then I took a deep breath before stepping into her room. She didn’t answer, and I moved to stand right behind her.
“Trel?” I whispered as I braced myself for her to turn around and pepper me with insults.
“What?” she whispered back. I didn’t see her face, but she was hugging herself.
“We are going to be okay,” I said. “I’ll go get a big dinosaur, and we’ll move bigger logs. It’s going to be alright.”
“No. No it won’t,” she whispered, and I could see her shoulders shaking a bit.
“Can you turn around?” I asked.
“No,” she hissed. “Go away. Go find your dinosaur. It isn’t going to help. We are going to die here. My sisters aren’t coming for me. You were right. We are stuck here forever. Our only hope was that camp and now it is ruined.”
“Hey, hey, hey.” I reached my hand out cautiously and laid it on her shoulder. I expected her to jump, or spin around and scream at me, but she didn’t move when I touched her. “Can you turn around so we can talk?”
“We are talking right now,” Trel sighed, but then she surprised me by actually turning around. I had to step back a bit so that her spider legs didn’t smack into me, and I took my hand off her shoulder.
Trel looked like she was doing everything she could to keep from bawling. Her face was frozen in a painful frown, and she was blinking her black eyes a dozen times every second.
In that instant, I knew everything I needed to know about the beautiful woman. I knew she had raised a wall to keep us all out, and I knew it was now crumbling down around her.
I reached out to touch her shoulder again, and then I pulled Trel against my chest.
I felt her body stiffen, and she inhaled a sharp breath of surprise.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“When my parents died, there was no one to hug me. It was all I wanted.” My arms wrapped around her shoulders tighter, and my left hand came up to stroke her hair. She was shorter than me, and her face was pressed into my collarbone.
I halfway expected her to scream, or to call me a stupid male, or to push away from me, or to do something else that would make me regret showing her any affection. But instead, Trel just stood against me for a few moments.
Then she began to cry.
It was a low whine at first, but then she pushed her face into my chest, and I felt her body spasm with each painful sob.
“They aren’t coming,” she gasped between her cries while her clawlike fingers gently kneaded the outside of my shoulders.
I didn’t say anything. I simply held her.
“I’m never going to get home. I’m stuck here forever. Why? Why me? I didn’t want this. I didn’t agree. I don’t want to die. I’m not supposed to be here.” Her spider legs drummed against the floor behind her as if they were throwing a temper tantrum.
I continued to stroke her hair gently.
“We worked so hard on that wall, and then it’s gone. We wasted so much time. How are we going to build another one? You are right. Those orange birds are coming. We are going to die. We’ll build another wall, but they will just tear it down again. I don’t want to die!” Trel actually hugged me tighter and rubbed her face against my chest. Then she started sobbing again.
I wrapped my arms tighter around her slender shoulders and then pressed my cheek against the side of her head.
I felt another set of arms circle us on the right, and I turned my head a bit to see Galmine. The gray-skinned woman smiled at me, and then she pressed herself against Trel and me. Then Sheela was on my left, and her hair wrapped around my neck as she embraced us.
I didn’t know how long the four of us stood there holding each other, but Trel’s sobs eventually stopped. She still didn’t pull her face away from my chest though, and her hands still grabbed me as if I was a life raft and she was in danger of drowning. A few more minutes passed, and I knew that it would be okay to let her go. I needed to let her go. There was too much shit to do if we wanted to live.
I pulled my face away from Trel and turned to Galmine. Her emerald eyes were closed, but she seemed to sense I was looking at her, and she opened them before she gave me a loving smile.
I turned to Sheela and saw that she was already watching me. Her yellow-gold eyes glowed a bit in the firelight, and I took a long breath.
“I’m going to do everything I can to protect the three of you,” I whispered. “If we work together, we’ll get through this.”
“I believe in you, Victor,” Galmine whispered.
“I do as well,” Sheela agreed.
Trel didn’t say anything, but her hands loosened from my shoulders a bit, and she let out a long sigh.
“Let’s go find a dinosaur to help us build a better wall,” I said to Sheela, and the beautiful cat-woman gave me a short nod.