Venus spent a good part
of the day scheming in the shade of a tree not too near where Wohaka rested.
She was far enough away from him to have her privacy though every so often Wohaka
could hear a devilish little giggle coming from the direction of her tree.
Gradually over the next few days Venus became the worlds worst traveling companion. At first she was very subtle but by the third day she was the biggest pain in the ass anyone ever traveled with. First it she started walking a little slower, then talking incessantly, then there was the complaining, and the tripping and squealing in fright at every excuse, then the crying. Inside Venus was loving this. Her hope was that Wohaka would take the most direct route to civilization to get this over with as soon as possible and then move on wanting nothing more to do with her. She'd settle for him just moving on right now. At this point she was willing to take her chances without him. At any rate, it was the fourth day and by now Venus had faked a sprained ankle and Wohaka was carrying her on his back. Venus of course was yacking right into his poor old ears. An odd sight, this healthy young woman riding on the little old man's shoulders.
He considered knocking her unconscious but it was no good; as a spirit, Wohaka could do no direct harm to Venus. He could only try to trick her or someone else into causing the harm. Those who work for Wohaka are those that screw things up. Wherever there is a man-made disaster, Wohaka was there. There were no humans out here for him to trick except Venus and she wouldn't shut up long enough for him to think of a way to trick her. Venus was no dummy
Wohaka put Venus down and excused himself, with the lie that he had to relieve himself. This was in order to go into the woods to try to trick some of the animals into doing something about Venus. He was desperate and cunning but the animals knew better, they gave him the bum's-rush. Wohaka shuffled back to where he left Venus muttering something under his breath. In his absence Venus manufactured a hundred new questions and now she assaulted him with them. He in turn decided to feed her, it was the only way to shut her up. Wohaka quickly gathered some chewy things for her to eat and while he was at it, he stuffed his ears with damp clay. When Venus was done eating, Wohaka once again hoisted her up onto his back again and continued the journey, this time in glorious silence. Now he could devise some way to rid himself of his burden.
Venus had summoned Wohaka with a spell, by accident, a one-in-a-million chance that her gibberish actually meant something. Accident or not, the spell obligated him to the task he was assigned: to protect Venus. The payoff for Wohaka was that Venus would then be obligated to him. If he had come to her on his own, without the spell, he could walk away. The only other alternative was for Venus to release Wohaka from his obligation but that required that she know another incantation. Venus wasn't aware of these facts. It wouldn't matter anyway. Venus didn't know the spell she used to called him and she certainly didn't know the spell that would release him. From what Wohaka had seen, he didn't need to recruit Venus for destruction, she was doing just fine on her own.
On the fifth day Venus could walk again, though slowly and with a lot of complaining. By now though Wohaka had a plan. He knew the spell that would release him from servitude. All he had to do was to get Venus to say the words. It wouldn't work if he said the words, it had to be to Venus. Wohaka made the words into a song and began to sing it over and over. Venus asked about the song but Wohaka couldn't hear her. He still had the clay packed into his ears. He knew that eventually Venus would start to sing it herself, just from hearing it so many times. By the next day Wohaka noticed Venus moving her lips along with his singing. She looked like she was singing along with him, but nothing had happened yet. He thought maybe she wasn't getting the pronunciation of the words correct. He had no way of knowing, he couldn't hear her because he still had that clay in his ears and by now it had hardened so he couldn't get it out. Even with Venus's help they couldn't remove the clay. They got some of it out but the ear canals were still cemented shut. So, all he could do was sing the song until Venus got it right. What Wohaka didn't know was that the spell wouldn't work unless he heard the incantation. He finally gave up on the idea. He was driving himself crazy with that song. He had to think of something else.
Meanwhile the day wore on. Venus kept yacking away even though she new Wohaka couldn't hear her. She'd been cold at night so she decided that tonight they would have a fire big enough to keep her warm. When they stopped to make camp for the night, she went off on her own to gather firewood. Venus, being a resourceful individual thought that, instead of running around gathering up small branches here and there, she'd just find one large fallen branch and drag the whole thing back to camp and break it up. She couldn't find one that she thought was big enough. She found two that were sufficient. She hoisted the first one, about eight feet long and four inches thick at the stout end, up on her right shoulder and headed back to camp with it.
Wohaka was standing with his back against a thick-trunked tree at the edge of the clearing where they were camped. He had his eyes closed trying to enjoy these few moments without his traveling companion. He didn't hear Venus calling as she approached but he did feel her footsteps. He opened his eyes and stepped out from behind the tree just in time to get a face full of branches of the tree Venus was carrying. He clawed at the branches as he went down, landing on his back in the dust. Venus apologized as she helped him to his feet. He had a few scratches but otherwise he was unhurt. As he dusted himself off, Venus heaved the branch up on her shoulder again and as she turned, yep, you got it, she clobbered Wohaka on the back of his head with the fat end of the branch, knocking him to the ground face down. Venus, unaware, carried the firewood to where the fire would be, dropped it and went after the other branch. This one was a little bigger. When she came into camp with it Wohaka was ready for her and stayed well out of her way. Venus dropped it on top of the other log and proceeded to break them up. The smaller branches were easy, they came off when she slapped the big branches against the ground. There was a boulder half buried near the campfire and this she smashed the branches against. Eventually a substantial pile of various size fire logs grew around the boulder. Then, as Venus smashed one log hard against another, leaning against the boulder, it broke and then, acting as a fulcrum, launched one of the smaller logs that was under one end of it, sending it through the air cartwheeling in a high arc and landing with unbelievable accuracy right on top of Wohaka's head with a perceptible "bonk". One shaky step to the right, then one to the left and Wohaka went down again, falling face first like a tree. On the way down his forehead caught three low branches. Smack! Smack! Smack! Venus didn't see any of this. She finished breaking and stacking the firewood and started a fire. Then she went to check on Wohaka. She thought it was funny, the way he slept face down like that. Then she noticed that on either side of Wohaka's head there were little pieces of clay. She examined him closer and saw that his ears were now clear. She decided to let him sleep. As Venus made her way back to the fire she got another idea. She knew that Wohaka's ears were clear but he didn't. She'd play a trick on him.
Venus made a nice big fire and ate but Wohaka never joined her. He didn't wake up until the next day. When he came over to the campfire he really looked his age. He groaned and staggered when he walked, holding his head with both hands like it would fall apart if he let go. She pretended to talk to him, making the words with her lips without making any sound. Wohaka called her bluff, because he could hear all the other ambient sounds around him. Venus went on pretending. Even though he knew better, this unnerved him. Why this strange turn of behavior from Venus? Was she up to something or was she just going crazy like white people tend to do when they've been away from their civilization too long. He figured it was the latter.
Venus and her spirit companion made their way through the woods day by day. Venus kept up her mute act and still found ways to make Wohaka's life miserable. When she walked behind him she stepped on the heels of his moccasins. When she walked in front of him she'd pull on limbs crossing the path and let them fly back in his face. Venus was beginning to feel guilty for the torture she was putting this guy through. Why didn't he just leave? Is he masochistic or what?
Meanwhile, way back at the crash site, the military crash experts have been and gone. The search and rescue teams have been searching in ever expanding circles around the site. The military had missed Venus and Wohaka by a matter of hours but that was days ago. The military knew there were two people unaccounted for but they didn't know who they where looking for. They didn't like the idea of having civilians around, dead or alive, that they can't account for. They came to the unlikely but inevitable conclusion that the two had survived the crash. That led the military to believe that maybe the couple had something to do with the crash, and since the passengers were prisoners captured as possible spies, it was decided to hush up the affair and step up the search. The military would use some of it's experimental hardware to assist in the recapture of their prisoners. A perimeter was established around a one hundred square mile area between two main mountain ranges that would be the search area. Into this area the military sent some of it's most sophisticated experimental prototypes. One of these was the RE81, a 15 ft. tall robotic bipedal exoskeleton, manned by a single pilot. This contraption mimicked the movements of the arms, hands, legs, feet and head of the pilot strapped inside in a standing position. It's main purpose was as a heavy mover for rough terrain but fitted with canons and rockets, it had a certain terror factor that might be useful on the battlefield. Another one of the prototypes was the HoverBall, a basketball size almost silent flying recognizance drone with sophisticated imaging and data retrieving capabilities and comes equipped with small arms defensive weaponry. How it flies is top secret but the technology it uses, having something to do with magnetism, only works on small objects, hence it's size. Then there was the ROSAW, a Remotely Operated Small Armored Weapon, which is a relatively small, fast, six-wheeled radio controlled armored vehicle about one meter high and one and a half meters in length and width, bristling with weapons of various kinds. The vehicle is remotely controlled and powered by solar electricity. All military personnel, aside from the pilot of the RE81, were kept out of the area. From a command center in the heart of a mountain fifty miles away the operation was controlled and monitored by a team of 156 technicians, programmers, engineers and strategists with the help of a large bank of computers. Operation Haystack was about to commence.
The Colonel in charge of the operation had no doubt they would find the individuals they were looking for. He did not think he would find them alive. However, it was imperative that he find them, that's what his orders said and he wasn't one to question orders. He was looking for any excuse to use these military hardware prototypes in a real-world situation in challenging terrain. This was as good as any.
The HoverBalls went in first. Three of them went whisking out of their hangars, out across the salt flats, through the canyons making a kind of whizzing electrical humming sound that one could only hear when one was within one meter of it. These HoverBalls were painted in forest camouflage for this mission so that when they came up out of the canyons and over the rim of the last desert ridge and into the forest on the other side they would be virtually invisible. Capable of speeds of a hundred miles per hour, they whizzed just above the treetops as they descended into the valley following the route of the crashed helicopter. Each HoverBall was piloted by a technician back at the base. The Tech sat in a module that looked rather like something in a video arcade. Before him was a video screen that showed different views from the HoverBall as well as displaying other information that it's onboard sensors gathered. The HoverBalls, acting as an extra set of eyes, could relay any information they gathered directly to the ROSAWs without the techs having to ask for it first. The HoverBalls were fully automatic but the Techs were there to make decisions and take control once the target was located. At the crash site, the three balls went in separate directions, diving below the canopy, darting among the tree trunks. They systematically searched the area in a grid pattern.
Meanwhile, three of the ROSAWs were dropped from a plane. No parachutes, they just dropped them, crashing into the forest. One of the features of the ROSAW was that it could be dropped from great heights onto hard ground or water, it was built to take it and right itself from any position. If one landed in a lake or sea, it could either float or sink to the bottom and drive along the bottom to the shore. These too were manned by pilots sitting at computer virtual reality terminals back at the base. Each pilot had a real-time view from each HoverBall or ROSAW. It was almost like playing a video game.
The first indication that this was not going to be your run-of-the-mill prototype shakedown mission was when the last ROSAW pushed out of the plane bounced down the side of a mountain and into a deep narrow gorge, bouncing back and forth off the canyon walls before landing into the raging rapids below. It was carried downstream and over several waterfalls smashing it's solar cells and shorting out it's batteries. It's pilot had to be sedated. The other two made a nice mess before they came to a stop and righted themselves and waited for orders.
The HoverBall pilots were having a great time. The groups huddled around them ducked in unison as the balls sped between the trees. One of them had come upon a herd of deer. The Colonel came over to the pilot's station and suggested a real demonstration of the HoverBall's abilities, unlike these hotrodders who are going to smash up his equipment with their stunts. The Colonel ordered the pilot to stalk in real slow on the deer and see how close he could get. "Let's see what kind of reaction we get." The Colonel said with a twinkle in his eye.
The camo-colored basket ball parted the hip-high dry grass at the edge of the forest slowly homing in on the largest infrared source in the herd. A large buck with a magnificent rack of antlers rose his head and cocked his ears in the direction of the HoverBall. The pilot could see him now with his video camera and stopped. The deer being downwind detected no threatening scent and sensing no danger continued feeding. The pilot eased his ball in closer until he was within arms reach. The deer again raised his head and the ball followed it coming face to face with the animal. The pilot was looking right into the deer's eyes. "Now that's the way to use a HoverBall. You other pilots, go on auto and come over here and watch this." They huddled around the monitor and watched as the deer cocked his head slightly to one side. Then he backed up a step or two. The pilot moved in closer to maintain proximity. The deer backed away again and the pilot followed him. The huddle chuckled in unison. Just as the tech turned his head to smile at the Colonel, the deer struck. He reared up on his hind legs, tucked his head down and lunged at the HoverBall crashing into it with his antlers pinning it to the ground. The herd scattered into the woods. The mighty buck raised his head snorting with the HoverBall wedged between it's antlers beeping and spitting sparks. The deer twisted his head violently thrashing back and forth. The huddle was getting seasick. Then the deer took off for the woods, still swinging his head in an attempt to dislodge the thing in his rack. The buck skidded to a stop in front of a big tree. He snorted and pawed the ground and then charged the tree. With a mighty blow the deer smashing the HoverBall solidly against the tree trunk. Again and again he lunged at the tree until the HoverBall was reduced to scrap metal. The buck shook his head one last time, dislodging most of what was left of the ball, before trotting off triumphantly to gather his herd.
The huddle shuffled off, back to their monitors. A stunned pilot stared at a blank monitor screen. The Colonel, at the same time miffed and embarrassed, cleared his throat and uttered only a half-hearted, "Well, it's a good thing the enemy doesn't have any deer in it's military arsenal." The Colonel retreated to the back of the room where the company reps watched the action on their own set of monitors. The Colonel made no excuses, after all it was these machines that had to prove themselves, not the performance of him and his men. The company reps made notes and excuses.
Meanwhile, Wohaka took the lead in their trek out of the mountains. By now he just wanted the ordeal over with perhaps more than Venus. He was traveling as fast as he could and Venus was having trouble keeping up with him. Venus had acquired a walking staff somewhere along the path and was now glad she did as it made the going a little easier over the rough terrain. She couldn't believe how fast this guy was going. Each time she looked up he was a little farther ahead and she kept asking him to let her catch up. Wohaka would then sit down and wait for Venus to catch up and as soon as she did, he'd get up and move on without letting her rest. It only took a couple of these to get Venus into a boil. The next occasion she caught up to the old man, she stopped him before he could get to his feet, wielding her walking staff like a baseball bat.
"Hold it right there, Buster! This time you're gonna wait till I rest." She said, huffing and sweating. "You make one move and I'm gonna hit a home run with your head, so just sit and stay." They had come to a stop at a place on the top of a low ridge. They were among some medium size boulders strewn among the trees. Venus sat on one opposite Wohaka and glared at him. She was tired. Not just from today's march but tired of the whole thing. All the weird events and strange people that wove into the fabric of her life. She was beginning to question the whole meaning of reality. However, Venus wasn't the type to get hysterical. She was the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-take-all-comers type and right now she not in the mood to take any crap form anybody. She had a big stick and she was ready to use it. She almost wished for an excuse, any excuse, to use it. She loudly admonished her guide for his deliberate out-pacing her and generally bawled him out, her voice echoing among the hills.
This of course made it a little easier for the HoverBalls to find them. The first one to pick up the sound homed in on it, in a bee-line. As it came up to the place where Venus and Wohaka rested, it came up the side of the ridge zipping along about six feet off the ground. Wohaka shifted in place on the rock, triggering Venus now hair-trigger temper, resulting in her lashing out with a raging swing of her stout staff as a warning, just as the HoverBall whizzed over the ridge crest and into her line of swing like a perfect pitch. The HoverBall was moving too fast to stop or change course and the pilot got a ball's eye view of a home-run hit. Venus and Wohaka never saw the thing that exploded between them in a shower of sparks and metal parts. They were both knocked down by the blast and were stunned but unhurt.
While they were wondering what the hell just happened, the other Hoverball arrived, whizzing around Venus head. After asking the her to identify herself, the HoverBall 'arrested' her, informing her that the authorities were at this moment watching her. She was told that 'other machinery' was at this moment in motion to apprehend her and that it was futile to resist. It seemed that Wohaka went unnoticed by the ball as he began to move away from the immediate vicinity. As he went around behind one of the larger boulders he motioned to Venus to follow him. Since Venus detected no real danger from this ball-thing, and it wasn't actually holding on to her, she saw no reason not to try to flee. She bolted for the boulders to join Wohaka. She followed him under a jumble of boulders at the lip of the ridge crest. There, in a place that wasn't as much a cave as it was a labyrinth between boulders, they hid. The HoverBall followed them of course, having no trouble keeping up nor in following them amongst the rocks, nagging them about the futility of their flight. The ball pointed out the armored ROSAWs in the valley below at this very moment making their way here to apprehend her. From their place in the rocks the couple could see them. Wohaka huffed and rose to his feet and told Venus to follow him as he climbed out of the rocks into plain view.
"We're not giving up are we?" asked Venus.
"Quickly, do as I say and do not hesitate." Wohaka said sternly as he watched the unstoppable miniature tanks making their way nearer. He pointed with his staff to a pink stone about the size of a quarter lodged just under one of the boulders. "Get me that stone. Hurry!"
"What? You gonna throw stones at them?!"
"Just do it!" He said in a tone that left no alternative.
She had a little trouble dislodging the little stone but she managed finally free it using a stick and run after Wohaka to catch up. The HoverBall followed. When they reached the crest of the ridge again, Venus handed the stone to the old man. Much to Venus surprise, he tossed it over his shoulder without even looking at it. His gaze was cast upon the boulder pile where that rock came from. Imperceptibly at first the stones began to shift. First with little sandy rock-slides, then a jerky rumbling before the whole pile started to tumble down the mountain side, bouncing wildly. The largest of the boulders, about the size of a one-car garage, cart-wheeled as it bounced heavily down the mountain, coming down in a direct hit squarely on the forward ROSAW. Like some roadrunner cartoon, the ROSAW's entire payload of ammunition exploded, totally destroying the tank but sending the boulder skyward in a high arc with a trajectory that intersected in a direct hit on the second ROSAW, destroying it as well. Figure the odds on that.
Venus thought she detected cursing from somewhere inside the HoverBall while it's speaker was declaring, "You are under arrest. Resistance is futile." Venus looked around on the ground until she found that little pink stone. It would make a nice souvenir. The HoverBall followed her every move, completely ignoring Wohaka who sat quietly nearby in the shade of a tree. Venus was still steamed however and with the HoverBall nagging her, her mood wasn't improving. A few more minutes of this was all she could take and with out thinking and without warning she threw the stone at the ball, hitting it. "Your weapons are useless. They bounce right off me. Resistance is futile." But the stone didn't bounce off. It was lodged in a small opening on the ball's equator. Apparently the pilot had no way of knowing this. Wohaka smiled.
"So much for my souvenir.", Venus thought. Then approaching Wohaka, she said, "Well, since this thing can't do anything to stop us, let's get moving. All it can do is watch." When Venus picked up another walking staff, the HoverBall kept a respectable distance. And so they went down the other side of the ridge into a relatively flat open woodland valley. As they made their way into the meadows studded with stately oaks a large cargo plane swooped into the valley and dropped a payload somewhere ahead of the travelers. Venus knew they should expect some more military hardware in their path but she could not have been ready for what she saw next. There dead ahead of them was a giant robot, the RE81, brushing oak trees out of it's path, the ground trembling under it's footsteps. The travelers stopped in their tracks, transfixed on the apparition, jaws agape, as the HoverBall refrained, "Surrender, resistance is futile".
The RE81 came to the edge of the clearing where Venus and Wohaka stood and in attempt to impress it's quarry with it's overpowering superiority, wrenched an entire oak tree right out of the ground and tore it to pieces. Unfortunately this particular tree had a very large bee hive in a hollow in it's trunk. They swarmed the RE81, covering the cab, some of them making their way inside. What happened next was a sight to behold. Mirroring the pilots moves, the RE81 engulfed in a thick cloud of bees, thrashed it's arms about as it staggered backwards in circles before falling on it's back, arms and legs flailing in the air, pilot screaming.
"Resistance is futile", came the HoverBall's refrain. Wohaka and Venus looked at each other, shook their heads and rolled their eyes.
"If they want me so bad," Venus asked her traveling companion, "Why don't they just get in a helicopter and come and get me?"
"You are a hazard to helicopters, remember? Wohaka reminded her. They continued their journey, the giant robot, on it's back, flailing in the background as they walked away.
The HoverBall followed them. All the company reps, technicians and strategists back at the bunker could do was watch and weep. The job remained to apprehend Venus and it would have to be by conventional means. The Colonel gave orders for a chopper and a tac-team to fetch her back. Then he told the HoverBall pilot to tell Venus to stop where she was and give herself up. The pilot reminded the Colonel that he'd been issuing warnings nonstop since he found her.
"OK then," the Colonel returned, "shoot her."
"Sir?" the pilot asked, not sure the Colonel was serious.
"Don't kill her." He answered, "Just fire a warning shot at her feet or something. Let her know we mean business. She probably doesn't know you're armed."
The pilot promptly carried out the Colonel's orders, first issuing another warning and declaring it's intention to use force. Venus and Wohaka simply laughed it off, waving away the HoverBall. The pilot warned them one more time and then aiming at Venus' feet, pulled the trigger on his joystick. There was a flash on the pilot's screen right before it went blank. The stone that Venus had thrown at the HoverBall earlier had lodged in the ball's gunport, and when the pilot pulled the trigger the gun exploded, destroying the HoverBall.
The explosion scared the hell out of Venus and Wohaka but luckily it was contained within the ball's shell. It simply fell to the ground with a clang. The firing of the gun however, did manage to dislodge the stone and fire it at Venus' feet but not with the force of a bullet, it was more like a slingshot and it hit her right on the big toe of her right foot. Venus hopped around madly, clutching her right foot and making funny, staccato hooting and whining noises; injured cartoon character noises, mostly vowel sounds. Wohaka stood transfixed at this vision dancing before him. Venus lost her balance and the moment she hit the ground Wohaka vanished with a discernible 'pop!' right before her eyes. Venus had vanished Wohaka just as accidentally as she had conjured him up.
(to be continued.)
Way Out West ©1993 Martin Scherer. Venus & Mars © 1995 Martin Scherer. E-mail: Scherer@tesserak.net