Back inside the cave, I carefully set the water pot at the edge of the fire as if it were made of eggshells. Then I knelt to catch my breath and settle my red-lined heart rate. Sheela was already sitting at the fire near Galmine, and the gray-skinned woman smiled at both of us.
“Did you guys hear that pterodactyl?” I asked while breathing hard. “Sheela and I just scared it away.”
“We heard it screech,” Galmine said in a voice suggesting she’d been holding her breath until we arrived. “Thank you so much for helping Sheela protect us. She’s been doing so much for us on her own. I know she’s glad you were there. I’m happy to see you both are safely back. Trel stayed near me to ensure I was okay while you two battled that bird.”
“Oh, please,” Trel replied with dripping sarcasm coating her voice. “I was only checking the fire, and it’s a good thing I did. Because apparently, no one else can do it. It was going out. What would we have used to cook?”
“We can start a new fire--” Sheela began, but the spider-woman cut her off.
“Whatever, let’s see what the male brought us,” Trel scoffed as she walked on her human legs toward me. “Oh, great. He’s spilled most of it. Typical male incompetence.”
I was rather impressed with my performance. After I sloshed away the first inch, I’d managed to bring most of the remainder across the forest and up the ramp. It was at least 90% of what I pulled from the stream and that felt pretty damned good.
“You cannot fault Victor. We had to hurry and defend the cave from the pterodactyl,” Sheela replied as her eyes narrowed a bit at Trel.
“It was that close?” Trel asked. “It sounded far away.”
“Very close. It almost made it inside.” The blonde woman pointed at the door.
“Ah, well then. That’s different. Almost doesn’t count,” Trel rolled her eyes and then crossed her arms over her perky breasts. The movement hid her nipples from me, and I realized I’d been staring at her.
Sheela let out an almost silent sigh and then sat with her legs crossed while she tended the fire. I found my eyes drawn to her little swath of bikini, and I forced myself to look away.
“Thank you for helping me, Victor,” Sheela said with obvious relief. “Now you may rest and eat. You have earned it.”
I glanced at Trel, expecting trouble, but she suddenly seemed more interested in drinking some of the water we’d brought.
“Please sit here, Victor,” Galmine said as she patted the ground between her and Sheela.
“Thank you,” I replied, still trying to catch my breath. I was already kneeling, so I shuffled on all fours around Sheela so I could sit between the two sexy women.
The running and tension of being outside had driven my hunger to new heights. The aroma of the stew got me drooling, but I managed to keep my cool and not bang my imaginary plate like one of those prison riot movies.
“I'm afraid we only have one spoon,” Sheela said as she picked up a blackened piece of carved wood from the side of the fire and used it to push the steaming clay pot in front of me.
“That's okay,” I replied. “I'm fine sharing, but you should all eat before--”
“As the Duchess of family Iria, I will obviously go first,” the spider-woman interrupted me. Trel made her way to the far side of Galmine, and her see-through dress pressed against her breasts, thighs, and ass in a way that made it hard for me to focus on anything else in the cave.
I heard Sheela sigh a bit as she used the spoon to slide the pot over to Trel. The spider-woman didn’t even bother to sit; she just reached down with her long, chitinous fingers, took the spoon from Sheela, and then thrust it into the little pot before pulling out a full portion of the delicious smelling turtle stew.
Trel’s black eyes turned to stare at me, and she licked the bottom of the spoon with a throaty moan. Her tongue danced across the edges of the small spoon as she lapped up the juices, and then she slowly slid it into her mouth. Her eyes never left mine, and I forgot to breathe.
“Mmm. Excellent,” Trel sighed after she slowly pulled the spoon out of her mouth and ran her tongue across her lips. She was still looking at me, and I saw her head lower a bit.
She was staring at my crotch.
My dick was threatening to rip out of my pants, so I changed the position of my legs in an effort to make my hard-on a little less noticeable. Trel was obviously trying to get me aroused, and it was working. I didn’t know why she was doing this, but I suspected she just wanted to play with my emotions.
Sheela reached out as if to take the spoon back, but Trel repeated her movement and took a second helping from the pot. The spider-woman kept her eyes on me while she licked the spoon again, and my cheeks burned.
“There is only enough for one scoop per person,” Sheela said with concern.
“Oh, shoot,” Trel replied with over-the-top fake sincerity as she turned her eyes from me. “I had no idea. Didn’t we used to get two?”
“I think you know,” Sheela said softly.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m not giving one of my scoops to this male. This discussion has tired me, and I must now go rest.” The dark-haired woman gave the spoon to Galmine before she retreated to the back of the cave.
Trel didn’t bother looking at me when she walked away, but it didn’t matter anymore. My dick felt like it could have hammered nails into two-by-fours, and I glanced at the other two women to make sure they hadn’t noticed my painful erection.
“Guests first,” Galmine said as she passed me the spoon.
“You can go next.” I tried to hand it back, but Galmine crossed her arms and slowly shook her head.
“Men are always so polite,” Galmine declared. “I want you to go next as thanks for helping. I want you to feel welcome here among us.”
I turned to Sheela and offered her the spoon, but she shook her head.
“I hope you won’t see me as a guest for too long,” I said while reaching for the stew pot. “I want to be an equal member of your group.” I did want to be chivalrous and all, but I couldn’t remember ever being as hungry as I was at that moment.
I used the crude wooden spoon to capture a full helping of stew. When the turtle meat touched my lips, I was rewarded with an explosion of taste and satisfaction that nuked my usual meals of pizza and ramen noodles. I swallowed it all in one heaping gulp and felt the warm broth slosh into my empty stomach like a tidal wave.
“This is the best tasting thing I’ve ever put in my mouth,” I finally said with what I imagined was a bewildered look on my face. I knew rich people ate turtle soup, and now I could understand why.
“Starvation makes everything taste better,” Sheela said plainly, “but it is excellent.”
“I think it would be amazing, even if I weren’t starving. Who’s the chef?” I asked.
“Sheela caught it, I kept watch over it, and Trel kept watch over me,” Galmine said. “It was a team effort. We all work so well together.”
“I think I could eat that whole pot, and then twenty more after. Who’s next?” I asked as I looked to both Sheela and Galmine.
“Galmine can go next,” Sheela said with a nod toward the stone-skinned woman.
“Here, please take it back. Thank you for letting me eat before you,” I said to Galmine. I still felt crushing starvation, but I wasn’t going to complain in front of three beautiful women.
“You are most welcome,” Galmine said with her typical bubbly attitude.
The single mouthful of food did little but increase my hunger. There was nothing I could do about it though, so I leaned back on my hands and reflected on our situation. The pterodactyl in the tree was our most immediate threat, but in a world full of vicious, raging dinosaurs it was comparatively minor. Strangely enough, it was the most basic problems of food, water, and safety we had to solve, rather than pie-in-the-sky stuff like how to fight a T-Rex or why the aliens put us here.
“Pie would hit the spot,” I mused aloud.
“Pie? Is that one of your world’s foods?” Galmine asked, and her emerald eyes sparkled with interest.
“What? Oh, yes. Pie is a kind of a …” I tried to think of how to describe pie to a beautiful alien woman. I wasn’t even sure I knew how to make a pie. “It’s like a flattened basket of mashed up fruit wrapped in sugary baked bread.”
“I saw it in my head, but your description is much better. It sounds delicious,” Galmine replied as she tapped her temple. She then passed the spoon and pot to me.
I passed the food and spoon to the blonde cat-woman, and she took them from me gratefully. I watched her tip the pot to get at the remaining spoonful of stew, but then I turned away before she could slide the spoon into her mouth.
“I didn’t mean to talk about pie, but I was thinking about food,” I said. “I guessed that was the last of it, but you wouldn’t happen to have more turtles stashed here, would you?”
“No,” replied Sheela. “I have to hunt for it daily.”
“Yeah, I remembered you talking about that.” I asked. “How much meat can you bring back in a day?”
“Not enough, male, and now we have another mouth to feed.” Trel huffed from her nook in the back of the cave. I peered into the darkness toward her alcove, but there was some sort of privacy curtain, and the light of the fire had a hard time penetrating.
“He did just get--,” Galmine began to reply, but Trel interrupted her.
“I know exactly what he’s done. He’s been annoying, he’s followed Sheela to get the water, and he’s anxious to get his male mitts on our meager food supply.” Trel poked her beautiful face out from behind her silk curtain, and then she scrunched up her nose at the gray-skinned woman.
“I am trying to help you all with--” I started to say, but Galmine jumped in.
“We do have some berries.” She pointed back toward Trel. “We keep a bunch of them back there, where it isn’t as hot. We don’t have much, but it’s what I’m used to eating on my homeworld. Sheela was a sweetheart and found some for me to eat before she went away to find you.”
“Pfft. Some of us don’t eat weed seeds,” Trel said with snark.
“I was able to get many berries, yes,” Sheela explained. “They grow all around us on the hill outside the cave and are easy to gather if you have the time. My species can subsist on fruits and berries for a while, but we require meat if we are to exert ourselves.”
“You mean like getting water and hunting?” I asked.
“Yes, you are correct,” Sheela began. “Both require extra calories that I cannot get from eating fruit and vegetables like Galmine. However, hunting in this world is not easy. It is risky to kill big animals, and I cannot carry back all the meat. It is much easier to grab small turtles and fish.”
“Even if we did kill a big dinosaur where would we store all the meat?” I asked as I thought about the small refrigerator in my apartment. “We’d be overwhelmed by scavengers a day or two before the place stank of rot.”
“But we would eat like queens while we had it,” Trel said dryly from her nook.
Sheela only nodded. “Turtles like this are my preferred quarry, for now. I can bring them back here alive and toss the shell when I am finished with it. But only the small turtles walk the shores of the lakes and creeks. The bigger ones are in the deep water.”
“Hunt every day and eat it right away? That sounds exhausting.” I really wished I had paid attention to those survival shows on television with the guys who could live for weeks on moss and tree bark. How would they handle food if they were on this planet?
“I am afraid it is,” Sheela answered. “I have to supplement our meals with fruits and berries, which is why I am not at my peak physical condition right now.”
I looked her up and down and found it hard to believe.
“You aren’t in top form? I can’t imagine what you’d look like if you were,” I said with a little chuckle.
I expected a smile in return, but Sheela turned serious. “On my homeworld, the women are expected to always maintain our bodies, maybe even more than the males.”
I was struck by how alien she really was; a woman with short soft fur, feline eyes, and a mane of hair that would be the envy of Rapunzel. All three of the women were aliens, but they didn’t fit the mold of the ‘little green men’ we always worried about back on earth. Maybe ‘alien’ was the wrong word since each of them were pulled from their homes and dumped here like me.
We were all aliens on this planet.
“Are you feeling alright, Victor? Still thirsty?” Galmine asked as her hand rubbed my shoulder.
I blinked at her a few times and realized that I must have missed something. “No. Sorry. I’m easily distracted.” I smiled at her and then turned back to Sheela.
“It is all right,” Sheela said. “I just wanted you to know why I am not at maximum efficiency.”
“Well, if it’s always like this, I can see why,” I said with a laugh. “You’re killing yourself taking care of everyone else. I’m exhausted even watching you, but you were kind enough to let me into your cave, so I’m--”
“Pftt. I’ve heard enough. Did I miss a vote in which we allowed this male to join us?” Trel interrupted.
She sauntered toward us on her human legs, and I once again tried to avoid staring at her sweat-soaked body beneath the revealing silk dress.
“If we must vote,” Sheela replied in her tired voice. “I, for one, wish to allow him to join. He survived alone in the wilds. He volunteered to get water and did well for his first time. He helped me fight off the flying dinosaur without being asked. And though I see the fear in his eyes, he shields that fear from the animals. It is an important skill for a hunter. In my estimation, he has done more than enough to join our group.”
“I agree,” Galmine said right after the blonde warrior. “If Sheela says he helped her outside, he automatically has my vote. But from what I’ve seen in here, Victor has been nothing but kind and thoughtful to me. I really want him to stay.”
“That is two-to-one in favor,” Sheela declared, giving no time for Trel to object.
“Wait,” Trel replied as she got right up next to the cooking fire. “I haven’t voted.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my spot as Trel deliberated for what felt like fifteen seconds. Then she cleared her throat, looked at each of the two other women and raised her pointer finger-claw in the air.
“I vote to allow this male to join,” Trel said without an ounce of sarcasm.
The three of us shared a confused moment of silence as we watched the complicated spider-woman.
“Thank you,” I said to Trel, hoping she wasn’t about to take it back.
“The male will not thank me,” Trel said as she raised her perfect nose in the air. “My decision was based solely on being part of the winning majority. I obviously initiated the vote to ensure you would join and start off in my debt.”
“Victor is not in your debt, Trel,” Sheela said. “Even if you voted for him.”
Trel exhaled as if she’d been given the worst news of her life, and she shot me a cold glare.
“Yay!” Galmine said with a refreshing burst of excitement. “We can be like a big happy family, working to support each other in this horrible place. It feels so good to have such wonderful friends, don’t you think?”
“I, uh, promise you won’t regret it,” I said. “This is not much different from situations I’ve encountered on my world.”
I was thinking of the numerous resource gathering and empire building games I’d played over the years, although none of them dropped me in the middle of an alien planet, surrounded me with dinosaurs and beautiful women, and then failed to give me the smallest clue about how to win. I knew nothing about my “base” except it was a cave on a hillside. I didn’t have a single tool or the slightest idea where to get one. And my workforce consisted of three sexy alien women with strange skills and seemingly arbitrary stats. My “empire” was destined to be pretty damned small.
Unless I figured out how to protect these women.
“This should be good,” Trel huffed. “You seriously expect us to believe you’ve been in a situation just like this one?”
“Not like this,” I admitted. “I’ve been involved in numerous, um, scenarios, or simulations, where I started with nothing. The best thing we can do right now is sketch out a plan for how we can survive and stick to it. We can adjust it later on, but a plan is critical to long-term survival. Otherwise, you tend to live day to day, always reacting to unforeseen threats instead of seeing potential problems and avoiding them completely. This is especially true when you don’t have enough helpers.” I looked at Trel and raised an eyebrow.
“For the tenth time, I do not work for you,” Trel replied with defiance. “Join our group if you must. Help our group if you want. But don’t expect me to do anything. I only wish to be entertained as I wait for my inevitable rescue, and you are hardly entertaining.”
I could tell there was no use in arguing with the beautiful spider-woman, even though she was a quarter of our manpower. We would have to work around her.
“Right, so, on my world, people use computers to plan it all out, which we don’t have. We--”
“What is a computer?” Galmine asked as she fluttered her eyelids.
“It’s a device that displays data and can execute programming,” Trel answered before I could, and I wondered how advanced her civilization was.
“Oh! So the Eye-Q is a computer,” Galmine said while tapping her temple. “Can we use this?”
“Maybe. I hope so,” I replied thoughtfully. “But I’ve only just learned how to turn mine on.”
“Tell us what your plan would be,” Sheela said with interest.
“So, on my world, we basically have reams of charts, technology trees, and technical data we study as we lead our team through a challenge,” I said. “It could be as simple as finding a magic chalice or as complicated as managing a galactic war.” I looked around the room and saw that they weren’t really following. I glanced down at my hands and struggled to find the right words to make this simpler. “The scenarios are always different, but they all boil down to proper planning and resource management. Since none of us know what we’re doing here, that’s where we have to start.”
“I see,” Sheela said.
“It starts like this: what is this group’s biggest challenge?” I asked as I sat up straight and rubbed my hands together.
“Dinosaurs,” Sheela replied.
“Food and water,” Galmine guessed.
“Annoying males,” Trel added.
“Those are all short-term problems,” I said, ignoring Trel’s contribution. “I believe our biggest challenge is establishing a secure home. Whether you are a chipmunk or a powerful emperor, you have to have a base of operations. We need somewhere we can go to be safe, no matter what else is happening out in the world.”
“Like this cave?” Galmine suggested.
“I don’t think so. On our way back Sheela and I saw the pterosaur clawing its way up our ramp. That means there are potentially two species of flesh-chewing beasties with their beady eyes on our cave. Maybe more. And how long do we have before the orange ones arrive in force?” I looked to Sheela.
“The last time they came about thirty days after the first scouts,” Sheela replied.
“So we have about that long to fortify this cave so it can withstand--” I said until I had a terrible thought. “Did you stick around after the birds arrived?”
“I was on the next hillside while I decided where to go, but yes, I saw them from afar,” she replied.
“Were they all in the cave or did they also hang around outside?” I asked as I continued my train of thought.
“I did not get back inside once they arrived in large numbers, but I think the females deposited eggs in the cave,” Sheela said as if watching it all again. “The males, I presume, remained outside.”
“Do you think you could have gone back into that cave if you wanted to?” I asked. I was afraid I already knew her answer. If the warrior woman could have fought them off and kept her old cave, she would have.
Sheela thought about it for a few moments.
“I do not think I could have returned,” she replied with disappointment lingering in her voice. “They have very sharp teeth, and it was difficult to escape just a few of them. They chased me for almost a mile. As more arrived, I did not dare go back.”
I sat there and stared at the crackling fire. What little smoke there was drifted up and out through some small cracks in the roof. All it lacked was some hot dogs and the sweet smell of s'mores. It would have been relaxing if our situation wasn’t so serious.
“Victor?” Galmine called. “What are you thinking?”
I shook my head to clear my thoughts. I was also getting very tired sitting there in the dark cavern.
“I wish we knew how long the birds were going to nest here,” I said to Galmine. “It could help us determine if we can hold out in the cave.”
“Why would we do that, male? Your idea of planning is what? Hiding?” Trel’s sarcasm was especially biting because she was right, it wasn’t a very good solution.
“Yeah, well, the problem is that we won’t be able to go outside while the birds are here,” I answered. “What if we had a reason to leave? Sheela said they chased her for a mile and she’s faster than all of us. Galmine would never survive. Can you imagine being stuck inside the cave until the birds were done nesting?” I chuckled, so I didn’t sound overly dramatic. Even that confinement wouldn’t be so bad if Trel crept around in her own cave, and Galmine and Sheela lived in mine.
“I had hoped we could find enough help to fight off the birds when they arrived, but I was not thinking clearly,” Sheela answered. “We cannot be in the cave when the orange birds arrive.”
“And who knows what trouble the pterodactyls will cause if they mix together with the other birds,” I said. “It seems like we’d want to be away from them both.”
“Where are we going to go?” Galmine asked with sadness in her voice. It came out like fingernails on the chalkboard because she was always so happy.
I waited to see if Sheela would answer, but she remained silent. So far, my tour of this planet included a slaughterhouse beach, a suffocating jungle, and a frightening redwood forest. Besides the cave, I had no idea where to go for safety.
“Victor, we saw that gigantic tree lying on the forest floor. Could we live inside it?” Sheela asked.
I immediately liked her suggestion, but could we? It was certainly big enough. It was at least as spacious inside as this cave, and it was made of wood. We could carve the inside once we had tools. Even the largest dinosaur would have problems penetrating that massive trunk.
“I think,” I began slowly, “we have to consider Galmine first. I would rather live inside a tree trunk above the ground than be in this dank cave, but staying near the cave gives us certain advantages we wouldn’t have way down by the creek. Mainly it gives Galmine a place to hide while we build whatever we’re going to build. If we’re a half a mile away, we won’t know if there’s trouble here in the cave.”
“I can protect her, male. Better than you could, certainly.” Trel’s words came out with an acidic tone.
“I see his point,” Sheela jumped in. “The tree is far from our current home. Also, I often see creatures wandering along the creek. It would probably be hard to build walls and doors at the tree with dinosaurs around. We would have nowhere safe to hide down there if a threat did find us.”
“So build close to the cave,” Trel scoffed. “It’s not hard to figure out, male.”
“Can we build in front of the cave on the open ground you showed me, Sheela?” I said while pretending not to hear Trel. The spider woman’s suggestion was right on target; pretty good for someone who despised the thought of sitting in on our planning meeting.
“Are you suggesting we construct a camp outside?” Sheela clarified.
“Yeah, or something like a little fort,” I said in reply. “Maybe four walls of upright tree trunks with a door. Big enough to keep out the birds. Nothing fancy. I have no doubt we could figure it out, but have you seen anything like that before?”
“I have seen my people construct small camps for hunting in our forests, so I only know how to make a very basic shelter,” Sheela explained. “The concept should be the same for a larger enclosure, but there is much we must acquire before we can build anything. For instance, we need better cutting tools to bring down the trees. I have used a sharp stone I found in the creek to cut a few of the smallest trees for my spears, but it is very painful to use after a short time. We will also need a lot of cordage to hold logs together, which we can fashion from bark or stringy plant leaves.”
“Waste. Of. Time.” Trel rubbed her bony fingers together to express her displeasure.
I pictured what I wanted in my head. It was like those old military forts I’d seen on TV with walls of pointy logs. If we had time, we could add a roof. That would be a proper dino-proof “base” for us.
“So, all we have to do is build some axes, cut down a shitload of trees, and then string them together in the shape of a square,” I said with growing enthusiasm. “Then we can build some sort of smaller shelter in the middle so we can get out of the weather. We’ll also need room for a campfire.” My mind danced through the plan as I spoke, and I felt the excitement build in my stomach. Yeah. We could do this if Sheela and I worked together. We could figure out how to set the logs for the walls and build a little hut.
“While we build, we will need to gather fuel for the fire, re-sharpen the axes, hunt meat, gather fruits and berries, and retrieve lots of water,” Sheela pointed out.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “Maybe we can make a second pot so we can both carry water? That will cut down on trips to the river. I can also help you hunt and drag more meat back to the camp.”
“Yes,” Sheela nodded, and a small smile spread across her perfect lips. “These tasks will be easier now that we have you with us, Victor. We will need to get some clay from the riverbed and then make a few extra trips for water so we can make the pot.”
“I made these two,” Galmine said as she gestured to the cooking and water pots. “It’s fun. I just take the clay, roll it into long pieces, stack them on top of each other in circles, smooth it out, and then let the fire heat it. I could make a lot more if you need them.”
“Great!” I said as I smiled at the beautiful rock-woman. “We should do that as soon as we can tomorrow morning. Maybe you can make it a bit larger than the first one, so we can carry more water.”
“You idiots are simply wasting calories on being stupid,” Trel sighed with exasperation. “Building your little play fort will mean you need two or three times more water and food.”
“Uhhhh,” I said as I turned over the spider-woman’s words in my head. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, she was right. Building a walled fort outside in the heat was going to be a ton of work. We’d probably each need a pot of water every hour, and we would need more than a few bites of food every day.
“Yeah, you’re right Trel,” I replied with a sigh. “You make a good point, but we have to do something. We can’t stay here. We could really use your help with building, or fetching water, or anything.”
The dark-haired beauty seemed surprised by my admission, and her black eyes stared into mine for a few moments.
“I am Trel-Idil-Iria, Duchess of family Iria. I don’t do peasant work, male.” She crossed her arms over her magnificent breasts and huffed. “They are coming to rescue me. You should just occupy yourselves with bringing me ample food and drink. Then, when they come, I might find it in my heart to take you with me.”
“But if your family doesn’t come, you’ll die when the orange birds arrive, or when the pterosaur tries to nest in here,” I countered.
“Pffft,” Trel raspberried out of her pretty mouth. “I feel like my brain cells die whenever I speak with this male. I must go rest now.” She turned around and walked back into the darkness of the cave.
My heart sank when she left, and I tried in vain to think of something I could say that would get her to want to help us.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered to the other two women. “I tried.”
“Don’t worry, Victor,” Galmine said. “Trel will come to like you, just as she likes both Sheela and I. We are both thankful that you are here.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I think we can make this work. We are going to have to figure out how to move more water and food back here. We’ll also need to figure out how to build the fort, but I know we can do it if we all work together. Sheela and I can do everything that requires leaving the cave, and Galmine can help us by making rope and pots. We can figure out how to make baskets and axes. The work will go faster once we get a few things done.”
“I would love to help.” Galmine smiled and brought her hands together to clap. “I don’t know how to make rope, or baskets, or axes, though.”
“I know how to make cordage,” Sheela said. “I can teach you both.”
“And I think I can figure out how to make a basket,” I said as I suddenly remembered a YMCA summer camp class where we made multicolored baskets for our parents.
“I have also spent the last few minutes thinking about how to attach a stone to an axe handle. We can try it once we find an appropriate stone, handle, and have made some cordage.” Sheela couldn’t hide behind her stoicism anymore, and her mouth split into a wide grin. “Yes, I also think we can do this. Let us build a new camp. It is a good idea. Thank you, Victor.”
“Ahh, well, ummm,” I said as the beautiful women both smiled at me, “I just want to help. It’s going to be a lot of work.” My face was blushing again, and my heart was hammering in my chest. Dang, I’d been around plenty of beautiful girls, but Galmine and Sheela were off the scale.
“It might help if we build a door to the cave,” Sheela said as she pointed toward the back where Trel’s room was. “I have collected some extra spear poles. A door might buy us some additional time to run up the ramp and defend the entrance.”
“Yeah, that’s a great idea, Sheela,” I said as I hopped to my feet. “Let’s take a look.”
Galmine seemed surprised I made it to my feet so fast, and she raised her arms so I could help her up. Her seemingly naked body was inches away as she slowly rose to meet me. For an awkward second we faced each other next to the fire, and then she grabbed me around my waist and pulled me into another hug. Like before, she felt warm against my body, but this time I also caught a whiff of flowery perfume. The scent made my head spin almost as much as the turtle soup had. I reluctantly pushed her away, aware that Sheela was now standing just behind me.
“Uh, what was that for?” I asked the gray-skinned beauty.
“Another welcome to our group, Victor,” Galmine said with a big smile. “Plus, you radiate warmth, and you are hard and soft at the same time. I find it comforting. Does my contact bother you?”
Trel made a gagging sound from behind her privacy curtain, but the three of us ignored it.
“No, I really like your hugs. I just don’t think I’ve done enough to earn one.” I tried not to make a big deal of adjusting the front of my pants. Rubbing up against her had made me two different kinds of hot.
“You earned it by staying with us and giving us hope,” Galmine said while tapping into her bubbly energy. “You said it yourself: we were living day to day with no relief in sight. Sheela is wonderful with all her hunting, gathering, and survival skills. Trel is so clever, sassy, and beautiful. I love them both, and I’m sure you are going to help our little tribe with your own unique skills.” Galmine’s positivity was infectious. I almost wanted to take her back in my arms and hug her again, but she flashed a final smile and stepped away before I could make up my mind about it.
“I brought these narrow tree trunks in here when I first arrived and had a little more time and energy,” Sheela said as we moved over to the poles. “I used several to make my spears, but maybe we can also use what is left to fashion the door.” Sheela tapped her foot against the nearest one and I noticed her leather booties were surprisingly similar to my own work boots.
“And this is the primitive cutting tool I have been using.” Sheela picked up a hand-sized dark gray rock from next to the pile and made some simulated chopping motions. It looked like the blade of a small hatchet, but the rock also had a little nub of a handle. It was sharp at the blade part, but it must have taken her half an hour to cut each of these poles.
“I see your point,” I replied. “That doesn’t look user friendly. If we make some better tools, a door would be simple. It would at least stop winged dinos from sneaking in. If we are out getting water, or whatever, we have to know the other two are safe.”
“Once we make the cordage, it will be simple to wrap the poles,” Sheela replied. “We can lay them out right here on the floor.”
Solving the problem of the door would be easy for someone who knew what they were doing. I had friends in high school who could rip apart their cars and put them back together with their eyes closed, but I wasn’t that skilled. I could swing a hammer or operate a saw as well as anyone though most of my handyman skills came after watching online help videos. I didn’t even have the ability to search the internet for how to make a cave door.
Fortunately, I’d seen lots of security doors at the various LA county animal shelters. Often they had complicated metal gates that spun against a row of bars, so dogs and cats couldn’t go back through. I doubted we could build a proper turnstile, but maybe it would be enough to put up a spiked barrier instead of a true door on a hinge.
I explained my new proposal to the two women as best I could without pen and paper. Basically, I suggested a primitive teepee shape with sharp spear-ends tied up and down the front, pointing toward the outside. That way if a bird got close, it would get a nasty surprise, but we could move the barrier aside when we needed to pass through. It probably wouldn’t hold up if a bigger threat came along, but I didn’t think anything could stop a T-Rex if it really wanted inside our cave.
“That is a clever solution,” Sheela remarked. “All our buildings have swinging doors, so I was not thinking of alternative designs. We’ll need lots of cord, but this should be far easier to make and serve the same function as a small door.”
“It wasn’t my idea,” I said with a relieved chuckle. “You can thank the confined dogs and cats of LA County, although even this probably wouldn’t stop some of those strays.”
Our next issue was rope. We already had a bit of it in the cave, but we needed to make more, so I took a few steps closer to Trel’s partition. The cord at the top was a little thicker than my boot laces but supported the curtain with only a slight drop in the line.
Trel must have been watching me approach her space because she violently yanked the partition aside as if to catch me in the act. Her hoop earrings swished from side to side, along with her dark flowing hair.
“Can I get a little privacy?” Trel snapped.
The spider-woman stood next to the half-open curtain with her claws on her curvy hips. Despite being a little cooler in the rear of the cave, beads of sweat clung to her exposed cleavage like condensation on the shower door. I pretended to be interested in the silky material of her curtain, but my eyes went right back to those wet breasts. I don’t know how long I stood there with my tongue wrapped in a knot, but it was several seconds longer than I should have.
“Well? What is it, male?” Trel growled impatience. “Did you not hear me say I didn’t want to be involved in your tiresome planning?”
As much as her human features made me burn with desire, her legs hung off her back as nagging reminders of how alien she was. She was beautiful, but every time she opened her mouth she lost a little hotness.
“Um, Ms. Trel, did you make this rope? Can you make more?” I pointed to her curtain while using a friendly voice.
“Wrong. Wrong. And wrong,” Trel shot back with increasing volume. “I am not ‘Ms.’, whatever that means. The male may be in our group but is still not allowed to address me simply as Trel. And this isn’t ‘rope,’ it is art.”
I glanced back and forth to Sheela and Galmine, unsure how to handle the difficult woman. Nothing I said to her was ever right.
“But can you make more?” Sheela countered as if Trel didn’t just bite my head off.
Trel glared at Sheela for a moment, but then softened her facial features.
“I can spin the most glorious silk dresses and cloaks, as you can see,” Trel said while swishing her hands down her soaked body to show off her delicate dress. “Making garments should be my special skill, not something undignified like building useless structures. I made this twine for my divider by stringing some of Sheela’s hideous leaves together. It is artwork for what it is, but why would I bother to make more of it? And the male who refuses to use my full name hasn’t even thanked me for allowing him into my private chambers. He is so rude.”
It was clear we’d get nowhere with her.
“Thank you for allowing us to see into your private chambers,” I mimicked her words as I backed toward the middle of the cave. I couldn’t remember her full name and wasn’t going to risk messing it up again.
Trel yanked the curtain closed to dismiss me.
I was dying to ask Sheela and Galmine how they survived so long with the ungrateful spider-woman, but before I could ask I accidentally stepped on something that let out a squawk.
“Jinx!” I blurted as I looked at the blue chocobo-looking bird.
The dino-bird flapped his tiny wings and squealed while he ran around the cave floor. Maybe he thought I was going to kick him again, but it only took a few moments before he snuggled up next to my boot, apparently forgetting all about it.
I crouched down to meet the little bird at his level and was surprised when he didn’t flee. I first looked him in the eyes, hoping to see signs of intelligence, but the beady black orbs didn’t give any clues to his thoughts.
“Sorry, bud. My bad,” I said.
“He followed you again,” Sheela remarked.
I winked on my Eye-Q and saw a flashing notice on the top of the overlay. The interface said, Jinfengopteryx tamed.
“I don’t believe it,” I said with amazement.
“What is it, Victor?” Galmine asked. “Is it like the orange birds Sheela said were coming to attack us?”
“No. This one’s harmless, Galmine,” I replied with a polite laugh. “I tried to tame him earlier, but it didn't work. Maybe it takes some more time, or I have to be closer or something. The little guy is tamed now. This is awesome!”
I felt like I’d just unlocked a big piece of a puzzle, and relief flowed through me. However, as cool as it was, I couldn’t really imagine what I was going to do with the little roadrunner dinosaur following me around.
“That’s wonderful Victor. I knew you would figure it out. I’m so happy for you.” Galmine rubbed her hand on my back.
Jinx hopped about but never strayed far from me. What exactly did “Tame” even mean? There was only one way to find out.
“Go over there,” I ordered him while pointing to the back part of the cave.
The dino-bird with the long blue tail walked where I instructed, but he diverted at the last second and ran under Trel’s curtain.
“Your ugly bird is drinking from the disgusting puddle in the corner of my sanctuary,” Trel huffed. “Get it out of here before I wrap it up and eat it.” She let out a squeak of surprise as Jinx flapped his wings back there. I would have found it cute if I didn’t know it was Trel making the sound.
I figured I’d use my connection to try to get Jinx out of Trel’s space. I first tried to point the Eye-Q toward the curtain and gesture for Jinx to come, but I couldn’t really see him through Trel’s partition, so he couldn’t see me, either.
Next, I tried to call him without the Eye-Q, but that didn’t work.
“Uh, can you please open your curtain?” I asked Trel. I was unsure how to address her, so I left her name out of my request.
She huffed, but the curtain opened about halfway. Just enough so that I could see Jinx.
“Come to me, Jinx,” I commanded in my professional talking-to-animals voice. My words brought him right out of Trel’s area and almost into my arms.
“It’s safe. I won’t hurt you,” I added.
Jinx allowed himself to be picked up. I expected him to be light like a bird, but he had a little heft. He weighed about as much as a small house cat, which is what I’d expect if he was more of a feathered lizard than a modern bird. I brought him up to my face, and we regarded each other while Sheela and Galmine watched.
“I’ll take good care of you,” I said, echoing many similar statements I’d made to animals I’d cared for over the years. Only this time I couldn’t place him in a protective cage until I found him a good home.
He and I already shared the same cage.
“Great, we have another mouth to feed,” Trel said with her trademark sneer. “If you could tame something useful, it might be a skill with some potential. But taming birds is good for absolutely nothing.”
“He is so cute. Can I hold him?” Galmine asked, almost begging.
I heard Trel huff, and I laughed to myself. Galmine seemed to be kryptonite to Trel’s superhuman efforts to be mean. It totally fit since she kind of looked like she was made of granite.
I honestly didn’t know if Jinx would let me hand him to someone else, so I mentally assured the bird he would be safe in the hands of my new friend. Then I gently held him until he was right on top of Galmine’s outstretched hands. Once I dropped him, he sat in her gray fingers and began cooing quietly.
“Yay! It likes me,” Galmine said as she gently ran her hands over Jinx’s blue coat. The cooing sound grew as she caressed it, and she let out a small giggle. Her fingers were actually disturbing the feathers enough for me to see that he had an undercoat of white down beneath the blue outer coat. He really was a handsome looking dinosaur.
“I think everyone likes you, Galmine,” I said without really thinking.
She looked at me with puppy dog eyes.
“Oh, Victor. That is so nice of you to say. I know this world is harsh and dangerous, but I’m so glad I met Trel, Sheela, and now you.” Galmine beamed a smile at me before looking at the bird. “And you, too, Jinx. Hello!”
We stood there for a few moments before my thoughts soured and returned to our numerous problems. I’d made myself out to be a great planner, and I’d have to deliver. The lingering smells of the turtle soup reminded me of my hunger and the need to hunt. The pot of water meant another trip to the stream tomorrow so we could get more clay. And I couldn’t forget numerous birds were coming to claim our temporary home. We had a door to figure out. And building a walled fort would be even more daunting.
But all that began tomorrow. Right now, the daylight from outside was nearly gone, and I had to fight my eyelids to stay awake.
“So, I think we know where to start,” I said as I looked at the two women. “Tomorrow we’ll have to get some clay, water, and ferns to make cordage. What do you think, Sheela?”
“Yes,” She answered. “We will also need to hunt for more firewood and food.”
“Yeah, and we need to build some axes,” I went on as the pieces fell into place. “Build axes. Build a door. Cut down trees. Then the fort.”
“I will have to teach you both how to make the cordage,” Sheela added, sounding as tired as I felt.
“It never ends, does it?” I asked.
“Not if we want to do more than barely survive here, as you said,” Sheela replied.
“That’s exactly what we need to do. Survive until we’re picked up,” Trel exclaimed from her nook.
Sheela shook her head in clear disagreement with Trel.
“I just want to get out of here,” Trel began, sounding defeated. “I’m not going to live forever. And where am I? In Hell! The cave stinks. The forest floor is essentially made of poop and dead things. Proper beauty sleep is impossible. I’m eating little bowl-shaped creatures like a commoner. And worst of all, I have to listen to a lowly male get himself voted into our cave and talk endlessly about planning and doing chores. Uhhgg. This is terrible. I want to go home.”
Trel didn’t speak again for a few moments, and I shared a confused look with Sheela and Galmine.
“And everything in this lousy place is sharp. Like this!” Trel’s arm popped out from the side of her curtain, and she tossed a rock that came to rest near Galmine’s feet.
The stone-skinned woman picked up the stone, and her emerald eyes opened with surprise. She handed it to Sheela, who held it out above the firelight.
It was made of the same gray rock as the rest of the cave, but it was naturally contoured like a simple axe head wedge. All we’d need to do is find a way to put the rock on a handle and sharpen it.
“Are you helping?” Sheela asked Trel with uncontained surprise.
“Helping? What? No!” Trel interjected. “I care even less than I did before. The rock was bothering me in my private chamber, and I wanted it gone.”
“Thank you for giving it to us,” I said to Trel, still conflicted on whether I should use her name.
“I would never do anything for you, male,” Trel replied. “As I said. I hate this place, and you, and that rock. So there.”
“I’m sorry you hate me,” I said with a sigh.
I waited for her sarcastic reply, but she surprised me by saying nothing more. She just remained behind her curtain, leaving the rest of us to gather around the fire. We sat down, and I swayed under the flame’s calming spell.
“Please rest now, Victor,” Sheela said. “I will keep watch until it is time to wake Galmine for her shift. She and I take turns.”
I was tempted to curl up around the fire and go to sleep, but we all probably felt the same way. My new friends honored me by voting me into their group, and I needed to share the load equally with them. I wanted to prove I could hang with the tough blonde, but I was also driven to convince the more difficult spider-woman she had me all wrong.
“I’ll take first watch, Sheela,” I said with as much energy as I could muster. “I can tell you’re even more tired than me. You’ve been at it for too long. More than all of us. It’s time you took a break.”
She narrowed her eyes for a moment, but then I saw her shoulders relax some. She might have been the stronger warrior based solely on stats, but she’d been on high alert for weeks and was wrecked. If she had a rating for fatigue, it would be maxed out right now.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “You have earned your rest, too.” Her voice wasn’t very convincing.
“I’m absolutely sure,” I replied. “All I need is for you to show me where you keep guard.”
I followed her to the front entrance of the cave, but before the feline woman could show me where to keep watch, she reached to my face and held her hand over my mouth. Her movement surprised me, and I looked into her eyes as she muffled my involuntary gasp.
Sheela pointed down the hill toward one of the open clearings between the large trees. Six or seven shapes floated back and forth in the deep shadows. Even in the washed out light of dusk I recognized the outlines of the vicious little green-feathered raptors I’d met when I landed on this world. If they came up the ramp, they could end my grand strategy game with a few lazy chomps. We couldn’t stop all of them.
The pack of dinosaurs nosed around like bloodhounds in search of a lost scent, and I worried that they would smell Sheela and me. I also worried Galmine or Trel would call out and accidentally give us away, or that the dinos would hear my heart hammering in my chest.
Then I thought about my new pet.
Jinx woke me up from my hole this morning, and I now wondered if he knew Sheela was stalking me. Jinx ran into my foot when Sheela and I first saw the pterodactyl. Then he ran into me again, tonight. Did he know these guys were out here? Was it a warning, or did he come to the cave because he was scared shitless? If I lived long enough, I was going to study my blue friend and find out exactly what “Tame” could do for me.
The pterodactyl belted out strange chirps at the green raptors when they got too close to the base of its tree. The raptors replied with their own shrieks as they nosed around the trunk. It was dark before they finally ran off into the night, following the yippy call of the alpha male.
Long after they left, Sheela touched me on the elbow to get my attention, and I released all the stress built up in my chest with one long exhale.
“That was insane,” I whispered. “Those are what attacked the others I came here with.”
“They are fearsome,” Sheela whispered. “I would hate to encounter even one of them.”
I considered the implications of why they had come.
“Are they looking for me?” I asked with disappointment.
“There is nothing to be done about it. This confirms that we need a wall around our camp. Your plan is good. We will follow it and adjust when there are new threats.” Sheela touched my shoulder, and I instantly felt a little better.
“Do you still want to take first shift?” she added with a wry smile.
“More than ever.” I was totally serious. If I wanted to stay alive and help protect my new friends, I had to be willing to volunteer for it all. I needed to learn from Sheela and Galmine so I could improve upon their methods. They, in turn, would improve upon mine. No one could pass the buck. Living in a world of dinosaurs was going to take every ounce of self-discipline and intelligence.
We had a big day tomorrow, and if I wanted us to have the best chance of surviving, I was going to have to make sure our best warrior got a restful night of sleep.
Especially since the voice in the back of my mind told me that those green dinosaurs would be back.