The Storyline for the
TeamTNT Total Conversion
The Search for Aasgard
Coming eventually
The project that
wouldn't die...

Chapter Four - First Anomalies

A small creek appeared, coming from a crevice in the rocks to Steve's right. It was apparently fed from underground, and its clarity and movement made him thirsty. Steve knelt down and put his lips to the water surface. It was certainly cool and refreshing, and even had a slight sweetness to it, as if an unseen hand had stirred a bit of sugar into it. It was unusual, but things had been unusual of late anyway.

Thirst more or less satiated, Steve followed the stream as it meandered among the rocks. The rocks were sort of unusual too, actually. They were more like stone pillars than rocks, but they still looked natural rather than man-made. Solid granites interspersed with pink and slate boulders vied for attention with the rather spectacular cliff faces stretching above to unknown heights. The ground was littered with rock fragments and pebbles where there had been rockslides. Steve moved a bit farther from the cliff face as a few pebbles dropped down beside him, out of respect for the winner in most rock-skull conflicts..

The stream continued across the ground, which began to slope away from the rock face. The angle added momentum to the water, and Steve began to hear the sound of the water gurgling, splashing as it hit the rocks in what was now a streambed. The water played over the rocks and nearly splashed up at one point to hit a dragonfly. One of several dragonflies, actually, hovering over the stream. They seemed to be gathering water by dipping the tips of their tails into the stream, all the while emitting an interesting echoing sound.

As Steve got closer to the spot occupied by the dragonflies, one of them noticed him and let out a loud chattering warning and spun around to face him. It began to slowly move in his direction, bobbing a bit in the air. It was hard to tell that the wings were beating, like when a wagon wheel or fan blade looks like it's not moving at some speeds. Steve wasn't really worried, but picked up a rock and tossed it at the insect. Unfortunately, the very act of attacking it made the others turn to face him too. There must have been twenty of them, and they all emitted the chattering sound as they turned.

He watched as they kept coming toward him, and interestingly enough, they didn't seem to be getting much closer. They were moving, so that wasn't it... Aha--they're bigger than regular dragonflies, Steve thought. Lots bigger. These wingspans, he decided, are about 5 feet. That's a big dragonfly. In fact, that's a big anything. Fortunately they were further away than he had estimated. It was the old "I'm not short, I'm just very far away" syndrome.

Armed with a few sharp rocks in his robe, what he could reach on the ground, and without that stick he promised he'd pick up and whittle to a point later, Steve was pretty defenseless at this point. Fortunately these creatures were pretty slow, and he'd be able to outmaneuver them without too much trouble. That's the thought he had in his mind when the lead bug shot the first fireball. The next thought was that things had changed. A lot. Bugs sting and bite, but they don't shoot.

Sidestepping the yellow rotating fireball wasn't too hard, and it burst into a blue-white ball of heat against the rocky cliff behind him. But that was just the first one. Now all of them were taking turns firing, and Steve was having a hard time defending himself. He ducked under one fireball, only to find that it seemed to explode by proximity and had gone off directly over his head. Instinctively he threw his robed arm over his face, and found that his robe kept most of the heat away.

It was definitely time to get some weapons, thought Steve, as he took off his robe belt, and grabbed some of the sharp rocks that spilled out of their now missing pouch. He used the belt as a sling, firing the rocks at what was now the enemy. An ancient but excellent weapon, the sling would become part of his arsenal. He saved one large sharp stone to use later as a knife to form that staff he needed now, but was quite satisfied as he watched these insects wince in pain as the rocks hit them. One by one, they were dropping to the ground and disintegrating into a small circle of multicolored dust.

Now that the furor had died down a bit and there were only a half dozen left of this creature, he was able to see a bit more detail. The wings were translucent, and the tail was pointed sharply. The body was held vertically during flight, and only moved a bit. There were big multifaceted eyes above a curved body with little legs or feelers on the abdomen. Sort of shrimp-like with wings. Steve, always one to be a bit whimsical when he wasn't getting his butt kicked any more, decided these would be known as Shrimps of Death.

When it fired, it brought the pointed tail up toward the abdomen, where a yellow glow formed and a fireball was spawned. Then it would flick the fireball out with its tail, much more accurately than Steve wanted it to. He was beginning to hate these bugs.

One just flicked its tail and sent a fireball straight at Steve's head. Unfortunately at that very moment, Steve had decided to check the robe for damage and caught the fireball right in the ear. Pain shot across his face and down his neck, as the explosion of the fireball was translated into a cross between an electrical shock and an oven-like heat. Steve was knocked down for the moment, but still had the presence of mind to roll out of the way as additional fireballs followed the first. The robe hood had been up over his head, and again it seemed to resist the heat from the explosion fairly well, but a fireball still packed a good wallop.

Rolling away had placed Steve behind a boulder, and that seemed to work pretty well since the Shrimps didn't fire if you weren't in line of sight. Recovering a bit, he picked up a few more rocks and readied himself for attack. Sidestepping around the boulder, he would lob a rock or two, then dart back out of sight again. This was working pretty well, actually. Earlier on the bugs had been far enough away that he could dodge their fireballs easily enough, but now they were closer and there wasn't a lot of time to react. Still, until one of them floated over the boulder, this was a good plan.

The lead Shrimp had come over just to Steve's right, and he really wasn't expecting it, his concentration having been applied to the dart-lob-dart approach. He felt it before he heard it (these things were pretty silent, actually) as it began to stab at him with its tail. No fireball at this close range, since it was probably close enough to hurt itself with the explosion. If it weren't trying to gut him, Steve would have found some relief in that discovery. The tail of this thing was about a foot long and sharp on the end. The whole creature was close to four feet tall, and that five foot wingspan estimate wasn't far off. Maybe four. Didn't matter. Ouch.

Again the robe seemed to help defend against these attacks. Monks in the middle ages would covet a robe like this if they could. Steve made a mental note to analyze it more later, but right now there was a fight going on. He decided that his best defense was to just punch the bug somewhere besides the tail, and he discovered quickly that it had no boxing training whatsoever. As long as he timed his punches right, his fist met the creature's underbelly, and he saw that wince of pain again. He felt a bit of an electrical shock from the first couple of blows because he hit right at the spot where the bug used created the fireballs. But four or five punches later, he had himself a dead bug, or what was left after it disintegrated.

Of course the other Shrimps of Death had advanced on Steve's position during this fistfight, and were now close enough to start stabbing too. He quickly darted between two of them and took off down the hill. They hadn't had time to stab him, and he had been too close for them to fire. Another mental note.

Steve ran in a pattern, straight in a line for a while, then a J-hook to one side and spinning around to fling a rock or two. This worked well, since they fired at his back, but the fireballs just kept going in a straight line as he turned away. The bugs were following him, of course, but he could get away. He really didn't want to leave any of them to come after him though, and they obviously were going to do just that if he let them live. So he kept this up until the last one crumbled to dust and he could examine his wounds.

Interestingly enough, the robe was completely unscathed by all this heat and activity. Steve did have a bad scratch on his arm where he had deflected a stab but his sleeve had fallen away, and as he felt the side of his face he sensed burns. With the stream right there, he knelt down and washed his arm. The blood washed away fairly easily, and he could see that though not deep, there was a slash almost from wrist to elbow, for a little while, anyway. There must be something simply amazing about this water--his arm had healed completely in a few seconds.

He tried it on his face, and it had the same rapid healing effect there. Had he found the Fountain of Youth, or what? He recalled the sweetness of his earlier drink and attributed it to something related to it. That unseen hand had been stirring more than sugar in here.

Steve looked around and found some more of his Coffee Berries, and between the recent fight, the stimulation and satisfaction of the berries and a drink from this incredible stream, he was at least as well off as he had been when he woke up this morning, and had kicked some butt, or at least kicked some bugs. As he sat by the murmuring water's edge, he reflected for a moment on what he would do next.

o o o

"Where is he now, Brad?" asked Professor Hendrickson of the young man at the console.

"As far as we can estimate, he would be arriving at a small town about now," surmised Brad, "and he should be able to use his ULT to communicate with the locals. That should be a good way to determine what strange things are going on there."

"Universal Language Translator, eh?" questioned Hendrickson. He thought for a moment about this insatiable need to make an acronym out of everything. Used to be, people would have referred to it as "the translator" if they didn't want to bother with the full name, but now it had to be an acronym. At least it wasn't one of those multiple-word words like BestValue.

Besides this wasn't universal translation by a long shot. The unit was capable of being programmed for a half-dozen languages at a time, but someone had to painstakingly repeat each foreign word for the vocabulary to be synthesized properly. That had been a tough job in this case because no one was around who spoke the language of the day. Still, it was better than no idea what to say, so they went with it. The one they used on Star Trek was what they really needed, but it was just a stage prop and an idea in a story.

"The locals would of course attribute strange events to the will of the gods," said the Professor, more or less to Brad. "So it might be tough to discern what's legend and myth from what's really a recent unusual event. But it's the best angle we have on it."

"We'll be ready to send the first message pod tomorrow. The reader units have already been deployed, so all he'll have to do is find one after he gets a pod," explained Brad. "Did you already form the message for that pod?"

"Yes, sort of, but I want to go over it again before committing it. Thanks for reminding me," replied Hendrickson. "In fact I'd better go do that right now."

Hendrickson left the room, brow furrowed, wondering what Steve was encountering. He hoped everything was going well. He might not quite fit in, but at least he had his supplies and weapons and should be able to handle whatever came along. Now if they just had a way for him to report back, this would seem more like a controlled project.

o o o

Steve drifted from the stream a bit as the landscape flattened out. He could see a small town ahead, and he quickened his pace. It would be good to see some other people, even if he couldn't talk to them. PDARC had hung him out to dry again--he was supposed to have a translator thingy. Well, sign language would suffice for now.

As he got closer, he could make out a small town square with shops, homes scattered about, and a large edifice that was probably a combination of a church and town hall. This was a large enough town to be quite interesting.

Then he was standing in the square, right during the middle of the day, and there wasn't a person to be seen. It was as if everyone had just vanished.

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