Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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A Bad Day For Fishing

by Rory Steves

I awoke with a start, sitting bolt upright in our tent. A quick look around showed my wife, both kids, Rex, and even Flutter were wide awake. Rex looked at me, figuring in his canine mind that I must know what had just happened.

A quick flurry told me Flutter was preparing to return to sleep. Most people left their parrots home when they went camping. Flutter would have none of it, insisting, loudly, that he be included in every trip we made.

"What happened, Dad?" Jerry, our twelve year old son asked.

"Was it lightning?" ten year old Allyson asked, naming her biggest fear.

"Let me take a look around," I said, pulling on my boots.

"I'll go with you," said Madison. "Rex, you're in charge."

Allyson and Jerry both rolled their eyes.

Stepping out of the tent, my wife and I both stopped short, and just stared.

We had pitched our tent the night before in a small meadow next to a tributary of the Sacramento River, tying our small rental fishing boat to a robust redwood tree.

Redwood and boat were both gone. The grassy meadow was now dry soil, and the river had shrunk to a modest creek. A sheer cliff loomed up behind our tent.

"Ally, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," Jerry said, sticking his head out the tent flap.

"Daddy, where's our boat?" Allyson asked, her eyes wide.

Rex raced out of the tent and skidded to a stop, his head moving back and forth, trying to figure out where all the trees, shrubs, and rocks were that he had marked yesterday. Giving up, he selected a single rock to receive his morning blessing.

"Conner," Madison gripped my arm and pointed. On the other side of the creek was another tent. Its occupants were also trying to figure out the new landscape.

Bipedal, yes. Human, no, not with the extra pair of arms. And blue-skinned to boot.

"Jerry, Allyson, get our gear into our backpacks," I said before they saw our neighbors.

"Stay," I told Rex, who now stood guard in front of the tent.

The huge German Shepherd understood instinctively; nobody would get to our children without his permission.

A feathered, birdlike, well, bird, flew out of our neighbor's tent, began to fly opposite our direction, then squawked, and did a wild u-turn, settling shakily on the female's shoulder.

The squawk brought out Flutter, who took one look around and decided Madison's shoulder was the ideal observation post. He shot an accusing look at me, inferring that all this was my fault.

My counterpart looked at their bird, then picked up a small rock, and threw it in the direction his pet had tried to fly.

The rock exploded less than ten feet behind them.

He looked over to me, my turn.

I threw a rock behind our tent, nothing. Picking up another rock, I walked into the thin forest, and threw it. Thirty feet later it exploded just as violently.

"What's going on out there?" Jerry asked as he and his sister exited the tent.

"Who are they?" he asked.

"Neighbors," I told him.

"Cool bird," he said, earning an angry glance from Flutter.

"Are these for us?" Allyson asked, picking up four necklace-like devices from the tent's front post.

They hadn't been there ten minutes ago.

"Must be," I said, hanging one around my neck.

"Gutten tag, mine frau. Ich liebe dich," I said, expending nearly my entire German vocabulary.

Madison looked at me, "I love you too, sweetheart."

Madison did not speak a word of German.

"Some kind of translator," I said, indicating the necklace. "I spoke in German."

"Sounded like English to me," she said.

Our neighbors had discovered their new neckwear, and put them on.

I walked closer to the creek.

"Good morning, any idea where we are?" I asked.

"Greetings, no idea. We had camped in a desert. I am Nuruht, my wife is Bilay. That's Oortang on her shoulder." Their children scampered up next to their parents.

"Noorling, and Ortessa," Nuruht introduced them.

I complemented him on his family, and introduced my family, including Rex and Flutter.

"Eeeeeck!" screamed Allyson, looking down river with my binoculars.

While she buried her face in Madison's sweater, I managed to pry my binoculars out of her grip.

I looked down river, and felt like screaming myself.

"Stay away from the water," I yelled to everyone.

"What is it?" Nuruht asked.

I threw him the binoculars across the small creek. He had seen how I used them, and quickly worked the focus.

His blue skin paled.

"Our camps are not defensible," he said, tossing my binoculars back.

Madison took a brief look, and looked at me.

"Get us out of this," her look said.

"Pack up your gear," I called to Nuruht. "You've got to get across the creek before they get here. The cliff is our only chance."

"Agreed," he called back. "Cut your tent into strips, we can use them as rope."

"What are they, Dad?" Jerry asked, having gotten the binoculars before his mother could stop him.

"Don't know, but we're next on their menu if we don't get out of here."

"Madison, I need you two ladies to find every bit of firewood you can. Include some green stuff for smoke," I told her, while Jerry and I began reducing our tent to strips.

Nuruht had his family packing up, while he sliced up his own tent. His children grabbed anything that looked like firewood and threw it over the creek to us.

"Jerry, give me a hand, buddy," I called to my son. Together we lifted every good-sized rock we could, and threw them into the creek.

"Stepping stones?" Nuruht asked, "Good idea."

Soon both families had found and tossed every rock we could find into the creek. It wouldn't win any prizes, but the little path got them over safely.

The firewood was arranged to block the advance of the approaching danger, we hoped.

Now we just had to scale the cliff before the welcoming committee arrived.

They looked like a weird cross between squid and some kind of crab. They seemed to prefer the water, but were quite adept at running over the land as well.

They seemed to prefer their food alive, sentient, and screaming. Several campsites downstream had provided them with a suitable breakfast.

"My son and I are adept at climbing," Nuruht said. "We can tie the ropes at the top of the cliff."

"Hurry," I said, handing ropes to both of them, and hanging the binoculars around Nuruht's neck.

True to his word, they went up the cliff like spiders. The ropes, once secured, were dropped down to us.

Next, the mothers tied the ropes around each child, and up they went. Both mothers soon followed.

As I tied the ropes to our small store of supplies to be hauled up, I tried to figure out how to get Rex up the cliff.

"You must hurry, my friend," Nuruht called down. "They also seem to fly!"

"I can't leave Rex behind," I called back.

Nuruht scrambled down just as fast as he had climbed, scooped up Rex in one arm, and went back up the cliff.

Rex did not complain.

I lit the firewood, and ran for the cliff, grabbing the ropes in near desperation.

Nuruht and our sons pulled on the ropes.

"Faster, Dad," Jeremy called.

From his tone, I gathered the reason for additional speed was approaching more quickly than we wished.

Once atop the cliff, Nuruht handed me the binoculars, and pointed.

Most of the creatures were in the creek, headed up stream towards us, jet-like pulses of water shooting out behind them.

They looked like a pack of hungry jet skis.

A few demonstrated the futility of climbing the cliff by rising above the water on a water jet.

We maybe had minutes left.

I picked up a fist sized rock, and hurled it at the almost visible shield.

It exploded nicely.

"We would be obliged if you would open the damn door," I shouted. I figured the necklaces had comm abilities too.

"You brought us here," I continued shouting. "You gave us these translators, now open up!"

The shield remained inviolate.

"We have maybe two minutes before your pets eat us for lunch. Before that happens, my entire family will run straight into your shield and disintegrate ourselves," I shouted at whoever or whatever was on the other side of the shield.

"As will my family," Nuruht shouted along side of me.

"No need, no need," a disembodied voice told us.

"Dad?" Jeremy tugged my sleeve. "They are coming through the smoke!"

"Open the shield!" Bilay shouted, as death approached.

Both families were arranged for our suicide run when a vertical black line appeared in the shield before us. The line widened to nearly three foot across.

"Run!" Madison screamed, pushing Jeremy and Alyson in front of her.

Nuruht and I stood to each side of the opening, shoving everyone through. As the crab-things gained the cliff top, we both dove through. The opening closed behind us with a sound akin to thunder.

More than a few of our pursuers slammed into the shield and were disintegrated.

"We apologize for the delay," a huge version of an African lion told us. "My name is Bansi. The equipment does not always function in a cooperative manner."

"What is going on?" I asked, looking at the assembled mix of species.

"Why did you bring us here? What of those who died downstream?" Nuruht asked.

"We don't know," Bansi answered. "Each of our families was brought here without consent or explanation. There are no signs of the original settlers."

"We have no control of the device that does this. It is completely automated. Nor can we arrange for where groups arrive. We cannot even turn the damn thing off," said Dusty, a winged, well, fairy.

"As far as we can tell, we comprise one of three such colonies on whatever planet this is," the rock Jeremy had been climbing on said.

My son jumped at least three feet in the air.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't know, I thought you were a rock."

A deep rumbling laugh sounded from within the rock.

"My husband just loves to do that to the children," a second rock told us.

"Are those things out there," Madison pointed at the shield, "original, or were they brought here too?"

"They were also brought here," Bansi answered. "There were only six of them in the beginning. They both grow, and breed very quickly. They call themselves 'Tugrik'. We have been unable to stop their spreading out. We estimate their number to be close to one thousand. In six months it will be triple that, or more."

"Until we can destroy them, or at least control them, we can only watch and save those who arrive close enough to the shield. Until the shield fails, then we all die," said Dusty.

"Our matter-converter is rated to last five centuries," said Bansi. His tone implied this wasn't the first time he had had to reassure his neighbors.

I wondered how smart the translator was. Did 'five centuries' really mean five hundred Earth years, more or less, or just 'five hundred orbits of Bansi's home planet around its primary'? In either case, Bansi presumably meant that it would last several lifetimes.

"The original power system failed three years ago," said the male talking rock. "Many died. Bansi was able to remove the power generator from his..." The rock paused, trying to find the right word.

"Omni-Camper 3000," Bansi said.

I had to suppress the urge to giggle. Lion-world had brand names.

"Yes, from his camping device. It has supplied the shield ever since. Just don't feed me into it!"

I gave Bansi a quizzical look.

"The generator converts solid matter into power by direct conversion. We feed it rocks, dead plants, even our sewage."

"Rox is always kidding us not to throw him in," the huge lion added.

Jerry tugged at my sleeve.

"Could we throw the crab-things into it?"

I looked at Bansi.

"It would be extraordinary dangerous," he answered Jerry's question.

"Allowing the Tugrik into our colony is not something you will get much support for," Rox added.

"If we could build a tunnel from the doorway to the converter, they would not be able to harm anyone," said Bilay. "My husband and I have worked with ceramics for many years."

"So have I," Madison added. "And my husband is the best mechanic and machinist you'll find anywhere."

"We will need a large vacuum pump to pull them through this tunnel," Bansi said, beginning to warm to the idea. "Perhaps you and I can build such a device."

"Sounds good to me," I told him.

"Perhaps," Rox interjected, "our new colonists would like to get settled into their new quarters before we put them to work."

"Don't even think it!" he suddenly shouted, and scooted sideways, as Rex began to lift his leg.

"Rex, no!" Jerry shouted, pulling our dog away, and preventing a rude insult to Rox and his family.

Flutter's squawk sounded a lot like laughter.

Our new quarters turned out to be a small cottage, which Madison immediately fell in love with. She's always loved cottages.

Nuruht and family lived next door in another cottage-like dwelling. It seemed the housing was based on species preference. Another part of the mechanism which brought us here.

The cupboards and refrigerator held food we recognized.

"Dewski's," Jerry shouted, grabbing a bottle of his favorite beverage.

There was root beer for Allyson, ice tea for Madison, and cold beer for me.

Trust me, I needed it.

This was supposed to be a nice, quiet weekend of camping and fishing.

Instead we end up fighting for our lives.

Oh well, the fish weren't biting anyway.

For the next few days, groups from our community searched for clay deposits.

Once a plentiful source was found, Nuruht, Bilay, and Madison began forming the huge pipe needed for our trap. Each three foot section, nearly four foot wide, was built in two halves.

Rocks with clay mortar formed their kiln. Five sections could be fired at a time.

When assembled, the joints would be sealed with thin clay slurry. This way, Madison had explained, the pipe could be taken apart and moved to a new location.

Bansi and I searched through the various species scrapped vehicles, campers, and other oddities. Then we combed through the non-functional bits of equipment left by whoever had built this place.

Try as we might, a vacuum pump was beyond our supplies and capabilities.

What we did manage to cobble together caused Madison's team to build one unique section of ceramic pipe to mount it on.

Even better; it could be powered by Bansi's matter converter.

We assembled the huge pipeline from the converter to the shield, near where Nuruht's camp had been, close by the creek.

Then the children, and a few quick footed adults, exited the shield. They ran around, jumped up and down waving their arms, yelling wildly. The still-open doorway was visible behind them.

Had to make dinner as inviting as possible.

Nuruht used my binoculars to scan for Tugrik.

We didn't have to wait long for our first test.

"They are coming, nearly one hundred so far, more continue to arrive," he told us.

Inside the shield, Bansi and I stood ready.

Outside, everyone continued to jump around, as if oblivious to the approaching danger.

"They are coming very fast, two minutes until arrival."

Nuruht continued to give the ETA reports on our guests.

"Thirty seconds," he said. "Everyone inside, now!"

All at once everyone seemed to notice the approaching horde of Tugrik, and ran screaming into the doorway.

The Tugrik sped up, not wanting dinner to escape.

As Nuruht, the last one in, leapt thru the doorway, Rox and his wife lowered the last upper piece of pipe into place.

The pipe completely covered the opening.

"Now!" Rox shouted.

Bansi and I hit the switches to power up the jet turbine we had built. We couldn't build a vacuum pump to suck them in with. So instead we had built the turbine to simply blow them into the converter.

Those Tugrik who tried to turn and escape crashed into the shield wall and disintegrated.

"Two hundred and seventeen less monsters to deal with," Dusty reported.

Not bad.

"Can we contact the surviving colonies and tell them how to build one of these?" Madison asked.

"We can contact them," Bansi said. "But they may not have a matter converter."

"They'll figure something out," I said.

"Let's get this pipe set up to feed from another direction. Too many Tugrik still remain," Rox said.

Maybe not such a bad day for fishing after all.

At least now the fish weren't catching us.


© 2011 Rory Steves

Bio: Stories by Rory Steves have been published in Weird Tales, Aurora Wolf, The Fifth Di..., An Electric Tragedy, and Phoenix Sullivan's Extinction anthology.

E-mail: Rory Steves

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