When we woke, we flopped out like fish coming out of cocoons. What? Fish don't come from cocoons on Earth?! Actually, they don't here on Jefferson either, but that was the closest image I could paint. We were stiff and grumpy but still excited. We were still here and we didn't have adults pulling us out and yelling at us. Or worse. Ever been grounded by having your booster taken away? Yeah, that's REALLY bad.
The nice thing about camping equipment, or at least the equipment we took, was it was all self packing. Tell it was time and everything rolled itself up in the smallest packages possible and loaded itself onto the packframes. The packframes would then stand up and we could step into them. The exoskeleton legs would allow us to climb as though we did NOT have 50 kilograms of anything on us. At all.
I can imagine some grandpa grumbling about all the new fangled stuff detracting from the wonders of old school camping, but, frankly, too bad, so sad, look and see what we had! nyah!
The only thing was we didn't want the tent to fold itself up just yet. We packed everything else and got ready. There was a chance either the adults might be waiting on top - seems unlikely, unless it was my Dad, he might wait to punk us - or the Yoats might have still been out there. We all pulled out our needlers and aimed at the entrance.
We told the tent to retract.
No Yoats jumped in. Dad didn't call down to ask what was taking so long. No BII busy body agent was waiting. No really annoyed Marine was there either. However!
A spiny creeper had been resting atop the tent and when it retracted, it yerped and fell into the hole with us. After it flipped itself over, it gave us the dirtiest look a Jefflife critter could EVER. It was the ultimate "HOW DARE YOU!" and then it hissed at us and crawled up the side of the tunnel and scurried away. Or so we thought. It actually came back and coughed at us a couple times and THEN left. It really wanted to have the last say.
Jackie went first and clambered up and gave us the all clear. Even so, she was followed first by myself and Tom. Veena and Rosa came afterwards. We wanted to be safe.
After all, this is an alien world. This is an alien world and we are chasing Indian soldiers on it. This is an alien world, we are chasing Indian soldiers and we are not even teenagers yet. Being safe was a high priority, obviously.
We collapsed the tent and it loaded itself onto Veena. Most of her pack was gone since she used the drones to foil the security drone. While the packs were light as far as we could feel because of the exoskeletons, inertia was still in play. The less we carried individually, the better for being more nimble.
And a tent is a very light thing. Stop thinking we were exploiting her! Sheesh!
We did a quick little scout around our hole and encountered our friend the spiny creeper again. It coughed and hissed at us and climbed a tree. We laughed and relaxed. If the spiny creeper was only worried about us, then we were in good shape. As we walked back to the trail, it coughed at us a couple more times. Give how small it was, the deep sound of the cough was rather impressive now that we had a moment to relax.
It was still early and the sun had not yet risen, but would soon peak above the horizon. We each ate an energy bar and hoofed down the trail. We were only a few kilometers from town, but we were in a very different direction from what the drone had seen us go and were far enough out we were not likely to be seen. This is an alien forest after all. We were still a little taut with nervousness, but we'd done very, very well for a bunch of kids.
But then, we were the Merry Pranksters.
And anything less would have been an utter defeat!
Lions couldn't have had more pride!
We were still quiet and being careful. We didn't use our boosters much because we thought the adults might pick up the radio signals. Just because they couldn't understand what was being said didn't mean they couldn't tell we weren't there. It is something like a flashlight. You could see there is one much further away than the person the flashlight can see with and you really can't tell WHO has the flashlight. However, given we were probably the only missing kids and the only other possibility was the Indian soldiers, yeah, it was better not to use our proverbial flashlights.
Jackie took up the lead. I was in the middle and Tom was in the back. Veena and Rosa between the lead, tail and I. The walk was pleasant and if it were not for the fact we were hunting soldiers, it might have been a lot of fun in a relaxing sort of way. Instead, it was, at least for the first hour, a rather heart pounding experience. Pointlessly heart pounding, but heart pounding all the same. Nothing happened.
The walk slowly became somewhat dull. The heart and adrenaline glands can only keep going for so long before they declare themselves a potato: stick a fork in us! We're done! Our heart rates slowed and we relaxed. No BIIs, no Yoats, no Marines, no Indian soldiers. Kids having an adventure. A kid sized adventure. At least for the moment. Chastised by a spiny creeper is about the ideal level of adventure for twelve year olds, I'd think, if I were not a Merry Prankster.
The walk lasted for another three hours. In that time frame, we saw a single Yoat, but it was scrawny and obviously not part of a pack or family unit. Loners happen.
We saw a herd of petrops: these were moose sized animals that migrated past Shadwell a couple times per year. They got their name from the fact their face was covered in a bony cover, making them look like their faces were made of stone. We didn't get close and they were not interested in us and we made sure we were not going to cross their path. Petrops only predators were not anywhere near here, thankfully, and they really only had a problem once every seven years when the cockatrices took flight. Every medium to large Jefflife critter had problems then and so did people, but we were not lunch live everything else was though.
We did see some stinging grass though and gave it wide berth: stinging grass looks like grass if it were pink, red, purple, and brown instead of green and brown. It was a Jefflife plant and it did sting. It was carnivorous and would fruit actually edible fruit and release a mimicked aroma. Jefflife animals would be enticed and come down, see the fruit and STING! Something like an anemone back on Earth, but it was really fortunate to us the smell it released was awful. It's pretty funny actually. Everything smells like a doughnut shop, but not the stinging grass. It smells like metallic vomit and the locals love it. Well, Jefflife locals. Makes me glad there are no Jefflife teenagers. Going to school with their perfumes would have me worshiping the porcelain gods all the time.
At last, we mounted a hill, the hill above the bay where the Church of the Sky Father Christ was. We wanted to climb up and check out if anyone was already there. If it was the adults, then we'd call it an adventure and head home for proper punishment. If it was the Marines or BII agents, pretty much the same. If there was anyone else...we were going to go see who that was...