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Chapter 13

We pull up to lower campus just as I finish talking to Ned and Marisa. They have gathered the synthetic ink they had made—not much, just about half a gallon—together with the real sepia they bought earlier to analyze. Ned had also wheeled a large quantity of his fertilizer bomb into the tunnel beneath the anthro complex. He rigged a timer to it that gave us just two hours to dump the ink into the pond of drill mud, find and kill the Old One, and either get back to disarm the bomb or get out of that area of the campus. Not much time, but things are moving pretty fast now. It doesn’t seem like more time would really make any difference.With most of the lights out the campus is more than a little creepy. Leaves had already begun to fall from the trees, but they were not yet crunchy, and with the drilling noise coming from the top of the hill there doesn’t seem to be any reason to proceed quietly. In fact, we can’t hear anything approaching us, either, so we decide that the best way to get to the biological sciences building is to move as quickly as possible and without any lights of our own to make us visible.On the way over Travis and Nolan talked about who would carry what equipment, and they decided that I would carry Nolan’s big gun and the smaller paintball gun with the laser sight. I think they were thinking that that would free them both to fend off any attackers.When we start unloading the back of Travis’s truck, however, I see that they have a lot of things they want to carry. Nolan puts on a backpack with extra paint cartridges and other things in it. And he carries his unwieldy paintball gun with both hands. Travis has his paintball gun in his left hand and a really odd looking flashlight in the other. The thing looks like a miniature spotlight, or a really big radar gun.

“I thought we were going to be going without light,” I whisper.

“We are, mostly,” Nolan says and then points up the hill. Then he puts his finger to his lips.

We began to move toward the hill while I look up to see what Nolan pointed at. Travis comes from behind us to take the lead, he doesn’t even bother closing the back of the truck’s shell. Nolan leans close to me and grabs my shoulder.

“When Travis raises his right arm a little you need to cover your eyes for a second,” is all he tells me before I see them. A pack of dogs, mostly large ones, the type they were using to guard some of the construction equipment behind a fence, come loping down the hill purposefully. Then Nolan moves forward so he is right next to Travis and I’m behind them both.

I’m protected, but I can still see what’s going on pretty well. There is enough residual light from the city to make out about seven dogs, three are possibly rottweilers and four are other breeds. One of the dogs is a terrier of some sort less than a foot high, but the other mixed breeds are midsized and look like fast, smart working dogs, Australian Shepherds, maybe. They way they run towards us is tightly organized and quick, but they are not running frantically. They are almost soundless and barely trotting.

I am scared, almost paralyzed, but when they are perhaps fifteen yards away from me, less than that from Nolan and Travis, Travis raises his right arm.

I remember what Nolan had said just in time and raise my right arm up to cover my eyes and close them at the same time. Just as I do I can see nothing but red, and I fancy I can see the outline of the bones of my right arm, for a split second, and then there is blackness again.

I barely have time to lower my arm when something crashes into my leg and snarls at me, grabbing my pant leg in its teeth. I twirl around and try to get it off as I hear the first volley of paintballs come out of Nolan’s gun, like the sound of someone tearing a drop-cloth, I imagine. It is pretty loud and I realize that he is attempting to aim around me at the dogs. The dogs are completely blind, dazzled by the mini-spotlight and turning around by then, looking for something to bite. Most of them take a few pellets broadside or in the rear and start yelping and running for cover.

The terrier still has my pant leg and I hold my leg up carefully. Travis aims a little micro-burst at its rear and it lets go, and races around frantically, seeking revenge. Then he motions to me to follow them and runs up the hill. I follow as quickly as I can while carrying Nolan’s siege weapon and catch up with them. Behind us I hear a clunk, followed by “yipe! yipe! yipe! as one of the shepherds hits a car head-first. Then I hear a car alarm and we duck behind a fence that runs more-or-less towards the biological sciences building.

When I reach them they are laying on the ground and Travis is laughing hysterically, but trying to be quiet. Nolan gets up and shakes his head in mock-sorrow, clearly having fun as well.

That’s when the bats hit us.

I was mentally prepared for the dogs, in a way. But the idea of opposition from the air was maybe something I would have only thought of when completely sober. Now I can’t so much as smell a beer or bourbon, even cognac, without thinking of the moment we were assaulted by bats.

I am flailing my arms around and trying to get them away when I feel a hand on my shoulder. It is Nolan, who leans in an whispers directly into my ear, “they ain’t bitin’, let’s go.”

And we do. I realize instantly that he’s right, more bats crash into us, but immediately they seem to recognize that they were having some sort of strange dream and fly away as rapidly as they came. We creep quickly up the hill next to the wall while I scan the skies frantically, hoping that there aren’t bigger animals up there on the way. I’ve seen geese fly at night and if one of those hits you at fifty miles an hour it doesn’t matter whether it was all a big dream-induced mistake or not.

Nolan turns towards me an motions for Travis and I to stop. He points once slightly downhill and away from the fence, towards one of the playfields and I see that a group of what appear to be deer are closing in fast. Nolan waits until they get within about forty or fifty yards and then showers them with paintballs. They seem to startle and realize what they are doing, maybe more because of the noise than the paint, although he clearly hit one or two of them. They scatter quickly into the darkness.

Travis then grabs Nolan’s shoulder and gets my attention. He points to a spot just past the biological sciences building and I see that there are some men wandering around there, carrying things.

We sit down so that the wall keeps us from being seen and Nolan is the first to whisper “Ned’s waiting by the door, right?”

“That’s what he said they’d do.”

“Any reason we need to keep these guys from knowing that they were in there, once we get ‘em out?”

“I don’t think so. Can’t we just wait and see if they go away?”

“Yeah, we’ll wait for a bit.”

So we wait there, as I scan the air looking for the goose with my number on it and Nolan and Travis talk in a hushed whisper, checking above the wall every few seconds.

“I think they’re going down-slope between anthro and bio,” Nolan says. Travis points to the buildings one by one and asks a question I can’t quite hear, clearly making sure he understands how Nolan is naming the buildings.

Nolan pulls off his backpack and rummages around, pulling out a large canister and setting it on the ground. “I think it’s time for a little field test,” he says smiling at Travis, who nods encouragingly.

I’m still searching the skies but I glance down briefly to see that Nolan is unscrewing one of the canisters attached to his paintball gun and attaching this new one from the backpack.

“What, do they run out that quickly?” I ask.

“Not exactly.” I notice that the new canister clanks a little as he attaches it, while in the stillness of the evening the old one does not. “This one is filled with a special recipe,” he says grinning from ear to ear. “Marbles. Just in case our friends come back.”

I can’t imagine what that would feel like, and I’m hoping that it doesn’t actually kill anyone, but I’m mostly hoping that it works, because all I have is a paintball gun. And we are getting pretty close to the center of things now. If people act more purposefully near the anthro building we are going to be in for a battle, I’m afraid.

As he finishes, Nolan gets up and we begin to move once more.

We manage to reach the biological sciences building without incident. Ned directed us to an exit that is on the side closest to his lab and farthest away from the anthro buildings. I knock on the door in the pattern he suggested over the phone, “Let’s Go,” by The Cars.

Ned opens the door and looks us over briefly before ushering us in. There are no lights inside and he closes the door behind us.

“Hold hands,” he says and we follow up a flight of stairs and through another door, then to the right and through another door, then he closes that behind us and Marisa turns on the lights.

“Dudes,” he says. “You made it!”

I make the introductions while everybody looks around and their eyes adjust. Ned is in jeans and one of those knit cotton ponchos. Marisa is in jeans and a kangaroo sweatshirt. Both have sensible work boots on instead of the tennis shoes I’m wearing.

“Here’s all the ink we have,” Ned gestures to a backpack on the floor that looks like a leftover from the ecology movement of the 1970s, complete with peace signs and a patch that says “Friends of the River.” I walk over to it and pick it up, surprised not to hear any little bottles clinking. I look in it and Ned says “we emptied it all into one big specimen bag. In the pocket’s a Stanley knife. Just cut and pour, dude.”

Travis and Nolan nod, respectful of someone with some tactical sense. Perhaps they’ll realize I’m a burden and leave me here for the next phases of the mission, I think to myself.

“Okay, so we’ve got an hour and a half before some portion of the quadanthro complex blows. Are we going to split up and try to accomplish both of our chores at once, or are we going to stick together?” Ned asks, looking mainly at Nolan.“I think we should stick together,” Nolan says and looks at me.

“I guess I think we should stick together, too,” I say, mostly thinking that I’d rather stay in the lab, even if I get a little blown up.

“Sounds good to me, but we don’t have any more paintball guns,” says Travis.

“Paintball guns?”

“Yeah, that’s how we’ve been able to fend off the animals. Comes to it we can fend off most people that way, too. Nolan has marbles in his. That stuff hurts a lot, enough to knock a guy out. We could probably move a little faster if one of you carried the eight-bore and the other carried the spotlight.”

Everybody just looks around at each other for a few seconds. Finally I chime in by volunteering to take the spotlight, and the backpack with the bag of ink.

“Great,” Ned says, “I’ll take the eight-bore, unless you want it, Marisa?”

“No,” she says, looking at the heavy double-barreled big-game gun that I had set on one of Ned’s lab tables. “I could probably fire one of the paintball guns, though.”

I hand her the one I carried up the hill and Nolan begins to explain to her how to use the laser sight and to unlock the safety.

She turns on the laser, takes the safety off, sights at a picture of a bunch of meerkats on the far wall, says “Third from the left,” and fires. The red paint makes a large splat an inch above the meerkat. “I’ll call that good,” she says and turns the laser off and holds the gun at her side.

“How many shots do we have with the eight-bore?” Ned asks Nolan.

“It only holds two, one in each chamber. I got four more in the backpack here. But it takes a few seconds to reload it. I figured that we’d only get one or two chances at this thing with it. If we have to start shooting people with it, well, I’d rather not do that, that’s all.”

“That’s cool with me. I was thinking we might have to blow some doors with it to get into anthro, though.”

“Could. It’d do the job. Why don’t you take the spares, then?” Nolan pulls these roller-deodorant-sized shells out of his backpack and hands two to Ned and says “guess we got it all sorted out, now. We go straight up the hill, fast as we can, we see any groups of animals or people in a tight formation, Neal lets ‘em have it with the spot. He warns us by holding up his arm for the count of two before he turns it on. That’s when you all cover your eyes. Right?”

I nod to show that I will do my best to count to two.

“And if there are any people out there running around alone that want to oppose us, Travis hits ‘em with paint. Marisa can fire at will, then. That doesn’t work I hit ‘em with something harder. That doesn’t work, we try to figure out something quick. We can’t, it’s up to you, Ned.”

Ned nods solemnly at this point and I wonder if he has the heart to fire that piece of artillery at a human being.

“Anybody want to top off the tanks before we go? Or go to the bathroom?” Travis asks, pulling a bottle of tequila from his backpack. It passes around silently while we check our shoelaces.

“Okay, spotlight, paintballs, marbles, retreat and think about it, then, whatever. Right?”

We all nod, and Travis puts his paintball gun down on a counter and claps his hands, “clap, clap, clap-clap-clap, clap-clap-clap-clap, Lets go!” he shouts and we all laugh with tension. Ned walks over to the light-switch and pauses, waiting until we all are ready. And then the lights go out.

Nolan decides that the best course for us is to go immediately over the fence, so that anthro is on the other side of it. That will leave us unshielded from anything upslope towards the drill and the excavation, but will keep us away from anything that guards the Old One’s place. There are two buildings between us and the excavation, but neither is very large, so if we have to turn on the spot we might be seen from the top of the hill, or somewhere else. I don’t realize this until we are outside, though, and I see where Nolan is leading us. It took about fifteen seconds for me to begin to doubt our plan, but I don’t see any way around it. Maybe I’ll get a chance soon to tell Nolan, I think to myself.

As we come out the same door we went in I can see no people or animals about. I can only hear the grinding of the machinery at the top of the hill, which seems louder than before. The night is darker, too. There is less cloud cover, so the lights of the City have nothing to reflect off onto the powerless campus.

After getting over the fence we see some movement up along the fence near the top of the hill, but can’t see what it is, something small, though. We move away from the fence quickly and trot, almost run, up the slope towards the first building. I keep trying to catch up with Nolan, assuming that I should be near the front if there is an opportunity to use the spot. But then I realize that maybe he figured out the weak part of the plan.

We come up to the first building and it feels like a real victory. Nolan peeks out around the side, though and then motions Travis up. They both stand there looking and whispering to each other while the rest of us wait and get nervous in the back. I keep checking behind me now, as well as the air above, wishing I had told Ned and Marisa about the bats and about my fears of rogue geese. They don’t seem concerned at all, although they are scanning the grounds.

We are all hunkered down behind this building but completely exposed to the campus down-slope and towards the dorms and I see that there are some people wandering around between the dorms and the parking lot. Just as I turn around to point it out to Nolan I see that we are moving once again.

Nolan and Travis race towards the second building. I don’t have any idea what it houses, but it seems to have some sort of loading dock on the down-slope side and he heads us directly for that. It is cut out of the hillside a little, giving us some shelter from the direction towards the dorms as well as towards anthro, which is now level with us on the slope.

I start thinking to myself that I should have some sort of plan for introducing the ink bag to the drill mud. If anybody is watching, shouldn’t I make it look like an accident or something? I wonder if there’s a way to cut the corner off the bag and hurl it into the pool, but then they’ll see the bag in there, won’t they. As I’m puzzling over this stuff I look over towards anthro and notice what it was that I saw moving earlier, near the fence.

In the real world, skunks don’t run around in herds. But there have to be at least twenty of them, and just as we get settled in, they begin to waddle towards our group. I turn to warn Nolan and can see that he and Travis are looking at several groups of people in the direction of the dorms. I tap Nolan on the shoulder and point out my discovery and he pushes the spotlight, and my arm, down towards the ground.

He taps Travis on the shoulder and Travis turns around and looks at the skunk army and chuckles, looks quizzically at Nolan, who shrugs his shoulders.

Travis tries to judge the distance and lets fly with a volley of paintballs. It’s not clear whether he hits any or not, since little tufts of grass and dirt mix with paint and the animals scatter a bit. Then they must realize where they are and what has just happened, because, almost as one, twenty skunk tails rise in unison and spray in random directions.

I look around at our group and see that most wear a grimace, but we can’t smell anything, yet.

Nolan begins moving around the building, then, on the dorm side, and I hope that we can’t be seen well, and that there is as yet no reason for the people towards the dorms to look closely in our direction.

Moving up past the second building, which claims to be Holt Hall, we can see the excavation and drilling equipment very clearly, and there are at least fifteen people milling about on the top of the hill. They don’t look very threatening, they are just going about their business and haven’t seen us yet. But there is no doubt they will soon.

We are about fifty yards away when Travis turns around towards me and shouts something I can’t hear over the noise of the drill. When I get up closer to him he stops me with a hand, leans in and yells “mud!” and points up to the left of the drill machinery.

There are no people near the mud pool and I head directly for it, while the others continue up straight and veer slightly to the right. They seem to be anxious to create a diversion, or are ready for a fight, at least.

When I get to the pool there is still nobody around, so I slip off the backpack, dropping the spotlight and unzipping the pocket with the razor knife. I then pull the bag out and slit the top and get some of the ink on my hands. It is suddenly very slippery and I hunt for a good place to pour it in, seeing that water is being fed into the pool close by. I pour the contents of the bag into the water jetting into the pool, put the bag back in the backpack and then wash my hand off in it as quickly as I can. I grab the spotlight and race to join the others.

As I run up the hill I realize that I just need to make it clear to them that I am done and we can all beat a hasty retreat down the hill. So I run as quickly as I can, thinking I’ll run past them. As I top the hill, though, I can see that I will do no such thing. Past the group there are about fifteen big guys, standing around.

It seems that they are protecting the equipment when I get there. But they seem to have decided at the same time that our group isn’t much of a threat to the equipment, because a smaller group, maybe seven of them, begins to walk towards us.

Just then I see a green light spring up between the legs of the nearest and this is quickly followed by a red splotch. Then Travis unloads a stream of paint at the group. This is not as well-aimed, but it seems to slow them down. Then Nolan seals the deal with a volley of marbles.

About then our group notices that I have joined them and Nolan shouts something that is not clear. What is clear, though, is that he has begun to run down-slope, towards the direction from which we came.

Take me to Chapter XIV

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Comments»

1. Chapter XIII is done « Sure as a Blog Returns to its Vomit - November 27, 2006

[…] Chapter XIII is here. […]

2. Anonymous - December 1, 2006

Don’t slag on terriers – they’re also smart, fast, capable working dogs. Smarter than most other dogs.

3. caveblogem - December 3, 2006

Anonymous,

I didn’t intend any of this to disparage terriers. I have had two West Highland White Terriers. One that I got in 1992 died this year. Alas, they don’t live forever. We realized that we couldn’t run our household without a terrier and got another one (pics available at hackmobile.blogspot.com). They are wonderfully smart, tenacious, full of personality, and they have an amazing sense of play. The “Westie” as they are called here, is also devastatingly cute.

I’m a little surprised that you would think I was slagging on terriers, since, among all of the guard dogs in this chapter a small terrier breed was the only one to locate her prey, blinded by a spotlight. My little 6-month-old Westie Margaret, could have done this. I think she can read minds.

4. caveblogem - December 3, 2006

Just remembered, that little picture next to my comment, is Maggie, at two and one-half months, photoshopped a bit.

5. caveblogem - December 3, 2006

Oh, and good on you for sticking up for terriers. I like pretty much all the terriers, although I have a special fondness for Schnauzers, Airedales, Scotties, the Kerry Blue, Cairns, and the Westie, of course.


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