What did we know?
That was the first thing, always. Sterla looked around from where she stood above me. I could see she was not impressed.
‘Where are we?’
She looked down at me. ‘I don’t know.’ She scrambled down the bank and I caught her at the bottom.
Sterla shrugged my hands off her and turned towards the equipment she’d dropped on the ground when we arrived. She picked her navigator from the webbing belt. ‘This is useless.’ She snapped it off.
I tried to sound professional. ‘Any sign of human activity?’
Still she did not look at me. She was waiting, maybe for an apology, or even an admission. I wasn’t going to apologise, not again.
She rummaged in her backpack, obviously intent on pretending I was not there.
There was, at least, an answer to that.
I strode off through the thigh-high grass, looking for…. Well, looking for the usual things we look for when we arrive. There was no sign of current human habitation. Although some of the stones, the larger ones at least, looked as though they could be artificial, manufactured. Possibly even the remains of some building from long ago.
I flicked on the scanner. There was no sign of TV or radio signals, no Wi-Fi, none of the primitive signs of human habitation. So we were in a place that had humans, either pre- or post the electronic age. We could be in a place without humans and I was reading too much into the landscape.
My boot caught on something. I looked down. It was just a stone in the ground. I knelt, trying to decide if it was artificial. At least if we found something man-made, it would – in probability – mean we were closer to the home dimensions. Before we’d gone adrift, got lost in the storm, we developed a general rule of thumb. We discovered that the further we got from Base World, the home dimension, the less chance we had of meeting people, humans, as we knew them.
As I heard Sterla’s scream, I was running. I pulled the gun from my shoulder holster as I ran, cocking it.
Sterla screamed again.
I ran back towards her, jumping over the stones that now looked more manufactured than they did before.
I heard a shot, to the left of where she’d been when I’d stormed off. I cursed myself for being such a sulky bastard. One of the first rules we learnt was not to separate until we were sure of our security. Well, as sure as you can be in an unknown dimension.
I saw her, lying there. I stopped, breathing heavily.
There were two arrows: one in her thigh and one in her shoulder. Her eyes were closed, but she was still breathing.
I turned cautiously, checking as far as I could see all around us.
I saw the body.
I hesitated for a second before I left Sterla to check the other body. It was dead, its bow and other arrows spread around it. A single neat bullet hole in its head, But whatever it was, it was not human.
I cursed it and its world and turned back to see if Sterla was alive… or dead.