Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 11

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The trogs have discovered their guard is missing!

I handed the blaster rifle to Callan and whispered, “Both of you keep quiet and stay out of sight.”

Moving with caution on the scree, I crept up to the small crest over which we’d carried the trog’s body. Trog feet crunched in the loose stone outside the cave entrance. I tried to gauge their numbers based on the noise the trogs made but it proved well beyond me. I turned onto my left side, closed my left eye, and carefully peered over the brow with my right eye. A hundred feet below me, something like two dozen trogs milled around the entrance to the cave. One stood aloof—their leader, no doubt— watching two more trogs scanning the ground for tracks of some kind.

Chris and I had left obvious tracks as we lugged the corpse up the hill but now our tracks were almost entirely gone. Callan must have smoothed out the stones behind us. Being far lighter than the combined weight of two men and a dead body, she’d managed to walk over the same terrain leaving hardly a sign of her passage. Would that prove enough to send the trogs off in another direction?

Two agonizing minutes crept by before the trackers returned to the leader and reported. He considered their report for a moment before issuing orders to his patrol. All but four trogs fell in behind the trackers and their leader, who led them off the way we’d originally come.

I quietly released a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. Four guards still blocked our only known path away from our hiding place but I felt certain we could take out those four if it proved absolutely necessary. With the same caution I’d used ascending to the crest, I returned to Callan and Chris.

“A good twenty trogs are following the wrong trail in search of us.” I took Callan’s hand and kissed it. “That’s all thanks to you, dear. If you hadn’t covered our tracks in the rocks, we’d be prisoners of the trogs right now.”

Chris gave me a puzzled look. “Didn’t you battle at least that many trogs when you first met Her Highness? If you Boosted, surely you could handle them without any problems!”

“You’re a smart lad, Chris,” I chided gently. “Stop thinking of me as some invincible hero and start thinking about what’s different between then and now.”

“Well, you’re older now,” Chris said more to himself than to me, “so that might slow you down a bit. But even if it did, Her Highness or I could lend supporting fire with this blaster rifle and—. Oh.” The ensign shook his head in disgust. “The trogs have blaster rifles, too. Even Boosted, there’s no way you could dodge that much massed fire.”

I gave Chris an encouraging smile. “Exactly.”

“How could I be so stupid? I should have realized that from the beginning!”

Callan placed a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I know quite a few naval officers who wouldn’t have figured it out as quickly as you did. Why are you so hard on yourself over something little like this?”

Chris just shook his head and turned away from us to stare at the rock giving us shelter. Callan turned a questioning gaze my way. I had an idea what was bothering the boy, but only because of a comment from Dr. Mach, the expedition’s surgeon. Chris was plenty smart, but I got the idea he felt his intelligence was his only asset and put enormous pressure on himself to be quick on the uptake.

“You know, I remember my first Scout Academy expedition when I was a cadet. I had all the coursework down cold and was certain I was going to set some kind of record for the best first cadet cruise ever.” Chris didn’t turn around, but his head shifted slightly so he could hear my words better. “I was so busy imagining the honors that would be heaped on me that I hardly even paid attention during the tour of the ship and only noted my duty station in passing. After all, it was a three-week cruise. I’d have plenty of time to memorize the ship’s layout. Can you guess what happened, Chris?”

The boy nodded. “Right after the tour ended, an alarm sounded and you were ordered to report to your duty station.”

“Yep. I was completely lost. When I asked another cadet for help, he told me to follow someone else assigned to the same station. It was good advice and better than I deserved—only I didn’t know which cadets were assigned to the same station. When the officers began their inspection tour, I was still running around hoping to stumble into my station. Instead I stumbled into the captain—literally. I knocked him flat on his butt.”

This revelation drew a look of horrified fascination from Chris. “They didn’t throw you out of the academy for that?”

“No, they just gave me all the worst cadet assignments for the rest of the year.” I smiled ruefully at the boy. “Smart people make mistakes, Chris. Smarter people learn from their mistakes and move on.”

“What if being smart is all you’ve got?”

“Then you’re selling yourself short!” Callan insisted. “In the last two days, you’ve survived the wreck of your airship, avoided being killed or captured by trogs, found David and me, tracked the trogs to their hidden lair, and helped David hide a body. Not to mention catching me when I was overcome by the heat yesterday afternoon.”

“I know you were just pretending yesterday, Your Highness.”

Callan raised an eyebrow imperiously. “A princess never pretends, Ensign. She chooses alternative means to accomplish her goal. But if you knew, why didn’t you protest and remain with the men at the grave site?”

Chris blushed furiously and ducked his head.

Taking pity on the boy—after all, I understood the appeal of wrapping my arms around Callan—I said, “A gentleman never questions a lady’s request for assistance.”

“Then it was done quite gallantly, Ensign, as have been your actions since then. I shall have stern words for anyone who would cast aspersions on you or your behavior.”

After that little discussion, we settled down to rest while waiting for the trog patrol to wander farther from the cave entrance. I did my best to clean the blaster rifle during that time but could only blow out the dust and brush at the sand with my fingers. I judged the gun in more serviceable condition when I was done, though the rifle was far from clean.

An hour later, the three of us crept to the crest to spy out the situation. Four trogs milled about the cave entrance, with three relaxing and one keeping an actual watch. None of them was looking our way. Assuming the rifle’s sights were true, four quick blaster shots should clear our way. I was just lining up the first shot when Chris caught my shoulder and shook his head.

“The patrol is returning,” he whispered.

Thank God for the boy’s young ears because several seconds passed before I heard the patrol. Shortly, they came into sight and rejoined the four guards. Trog voices rose in discussion for a minute or so, then the leader turned and looked up the slope toward us. I ducked out of sight before he saw me but it didn’t matter. The leader issued an order. Right after that we heard the unmistakeable sound of trogs climbing up the slope!

Can our heroes fight their way free or find a way to escape from the trogs? Find out in Chapter 12, coming Friday!