New Eden

Scene 11

All things considered, Keidra found that she preferred the jungle to the hood. Both were dangerous, no shit; but there was an honesty to the jungle that just couldn't be found in the streets. A snake was unapologetically a snake, and as long as you dealt with it as such, everyone was cool. A snake never had a psycho ex-girlfriend who got pissed and suddenly rolled over to the cops, or showed up in the middle of a deal with a gun and a new boyfriend. The snake would only kill you in proper snakely terms.

"I hate snakes," Keidra muttered as she hacked through the tangle of vines in front of her, a little worry dipping her brow. She was out longer than usual, and in a direction none of them had gone before. She should be heading back today, yesterday really. As it was, she'd be foraging for berries the last leg into camp. But the truth was, she was kind of lost.

The last high point she'd seen, there was an odd flattened meadow this way, and she wanted to check it out. Something about it looked off. Worth noting, anyway. But she'd underestimated either how far it was, or how thick the jungle around it, or both. She should have broken through to it by now; by yesterday, really.

She really needed another high spot to take a look about. Had she gotten turned around? Was she going in circles around the meadow? Which way was back? She needed high ground to make sure. And if she couldn't find high ground, she'd have to climb a tree to get her bearings. And the problem with trees? That's where the snakes hung out. Just because they were more honest than your local corner drug dealer, didn't mean she was any more interested in hanging with them.

Tonight. Sundown, she promised herself. If she hadn't broken through into that meadow, or found high ground, she'd find a nice tall tree and go visit her snake neighbors for a good look around. In the morning, she'd head back to town. Climbing trees was not her favorite thing. But a girl had to do...

After this, when she got back, she thought a well-deserved break would be just the thing. While she loved being the first person to see and touch a thing with the same passion many of her cousins had for crack cocaine, it might be nice to sit for a whole hour--maybe even a whole afternoon. Not moving, other than to shift position perhaps, or to reach for something refreshing to drink.

Hack, hack, hack, through the endless vine and leaf and plant-based tendrills reaching out. She still had that first spear strapped to her back, just in case, but this flint-blade machete was her favorite of the useful toys they'd come up with for her journeys. The machete, and the field basket, and she was just ready to go.

The break-thru to the meadow came after one hearty whack of cloud vines. One minute, she was in the thick of jungle, the next she practically tumbled out into the meadow of knee-high grass. A flock of squacking birds scattered from the treetops overhead marked her passage, and then silence.

Keidra stepped forward, into the sun, raising her face to feel the warm kiss, let the faint wind wipe the sweat from her brow. The grass whispered against her pant legs, crickets muttered all around at her intrusion. Squinting at the brilliant light, she saw tiny white blossoms dancing through the blueish blades all around her. Closing her eyes, she walked slowly forward into the calm of the meadow.

And promptly tripped. Something hard, an edge hidden by the grass, caught the toe of her shoe and sent her sprawling. Hands flung out on front of her, she barked her palms on something rough and abrasive just underneath the topsoil.

"Ah, dammit!" Keidra yelped, rolling over onto her back and then sitting up slowly. She hissed as she pressed her scraped palms on her thighs. "Shit." She looked at one pitted and bloody hand with a wince, already trying to think what she had with her that she could wrap her palms with. She could hardly wield the machete with her hands all scraped up like this. And she wasn't getting through that jungle without liberal use of the machete.

She looked down at the dirt, trying to figure out what she'd scraped on. Was there a giant nail file down there, or something? Using her heel, she dug at the dirt, uncovering a light gray stone. She frowned. That stone looked familiar. Dropping back down to her knees, she pulled at the grass roots and shoved the dirt away, trying to be careful with her raw skin but fighting an inner urgency.

When she had roughly a square foot cleared, she leaned back with her butt on her heels and looked at it. Although dirty, still, the looping curve and swirl design in the pale gray rock was clear. Goosebumps chilled down her arms and spine. It couldn't be.

She stood and looked, carefully, at the meadow. Roughly circular, with the outer trees on the edges sort of stunted and puny. Like they'd been knocked down a few decades ago, and grown back. Still, she didn't want to believe it.

Looking down, testing with her shoe, she followed the edge she'd tripped on, stopping every now and then to kick off some of the grass and topsoil. In a perfect circle, with spokes pointing out and the looping swirl pattern in the middle. The stone hard, like pottery and metal smelted together in a kiln impossibly hot. "Shit," she muttered again.

It was another landing site.

A snort pulled her attention away from the ground, and to the tiny eyes and big body of the creature suddenly sharing the meadow with her. She blinked, her mouth suddenly dry. What a fun day she was having.

The creature was a grayish-blue. Of course it was blue; everything in this damn world was blue! It looked sort of like a really big rhino; she'd seen them before in Lincoln Park zoo. But this one had a reddish rough around it's head, kind of like a lion. Now, whether that meant this thing ate plants or would eat her, Keidra didn't know.

It snorted again, tiny eyes red and angry. It's ears flattened into its mane, and it pawed at the earth. Keidra held her scraped hands out and slowly backed away. She didn't want to be eaten. She really needed to get back to camp and tell them about this second site. Something she could not do from the belly of a whatever-this-was.

She continued, ever so slowly, backing away. The thing held its ground, but didn't look any more pleased with her attempts at departure than it did at finding her in the first place. Perhaps she would agree to Doc's instance that they travel in pairs, after all. Suddenly, it made a lot of sense. If someone else had been here, the rhino-lion might not have snuck up on both of them.

Something moved off to the left of her new, huge friend. Keidra glanced up, and saw a pair of miniature rhino-lions galloping over toward mom. "Aw, hell," Keidra said, seeing mom's eyes narrow.

The muscles in the massive shoulders bunched, and it blew another warning snort just before it sprang forward.

"Ah, shit!" Keidra screamed, turning around and running for the forest edge with every bit of power left in her body. Carnivore or not, mothers in general just had no sense of humor about protecting their children.

She burst through into the surrounding jungle and did not stop. The ground rumbled behind her with the vibration of mom's mighty pursuit. Vines sliced her, no time to machete her way through. Leaves whipped and cut at her face. Twigs popped her arms. She pushed through. As long as she didn't run into a tree, she should be fine.

Angry bellows came from the beast chasing her. Keidra just hoped she wasn’t calling for reinforcements. "Seriously, lady. I don't want nothin' to do with your babies! I just want outta here!" Keidra called, a little hysterical at this point. But oddly happy. Her muscles sang, her lungs filled with air. She thought she just might make it through this alive.

And then there stopped being ground underneath her. She screamed, limbs flailing, as she dove feet-first into a wide and deep ravine. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the rhino-lion peek out through the trees at her. That bitch knew this was here, and purposefully chased her off. Well-played, bitch; well-played.

As Keidra hit the ground, bounced, and hit the ground again, the face peeking over the edge of the cliff disappeared back into the forest. Several cracks, crunches, and one loud shout of pain scared off most of the birds and small wildlife in the area. Keidra, broken and hurting in just about every part of her body, rolled over to see a stretch of river about six feet away. She thought she could really use a drink, as her eyes closed and she stopped thinking for a while.

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