A snippet

I’ve got a book out to beta readers.  I’ve also got cover art lined up.  If things go well, I hope to have it out and ready to go within a few weeks.

Since Tuesday is my extra specially busy day, here’s a snippet from another WIP:

The most dangerous post in the fleet was military liaison for the Terran Embassy to the Eres.  Humans used food and drink to smooth negotiations. The Eres used hunting. The more important the topic, the more dangerous the prey and the more primitive the arms they would use to take that prey.

Sweat tickled the end of Commander Nobuta Tanaka’s nose.  He would much rather discuss the proposed treaty over tea and pastries, or in deference to the Eres, tea and steak.  But they had to do it the Eres way. At his side, Sheshak, Tanaka’s host, stooped to examine the pile of dung left in the trail beaten down in the waist high pseudo-grass.

A kashek, Sheshak had called the beast they sought.  An herbivore, to be sure, but an herbivore the size of a Terran white rhino combining the worst elements of wild boar and Cape buffalo.  To slay the beast, Tanaka carried a spear. A fifteen centimeter crosspiece was bound to the shaft with sinew half a meter behind the chipped obsidian point.  As protection, he wore nothing but sandals, a pair of neocotton shorts, and a light coating of sunscreen.

At least during the war he had had a destroyer surrounding him when he faced an Eres hunter-killer fleet.

Hunting preserves covered fully half of Chakentak, the Eres homeworld.  The Eres kept them pristine for their various ritual hunts. This region, in the equatorial area, most closely resembled the savannah of Africa.  The leaves were more blue than green, the sky more purple than blue, and the sun a harsh white dazzle in the sky with no hint of Sol’s friendly yellow.

Sheshak served as Lesser Stalker to the Great Pack Leader, a position combining duties of a Deputy Minister of State and of Defense. He set off at a slow trot following the trail of flattened grasses. Tanaka followed in his wake, grateful for the muscle booster treatments, much safer than an earlier generation’s steroids, that allowed him to keep up in the heavier gravity of Chakentak.

Stalker Sheshak was large even for an Eres, standing two and a half meters from the top of his head to the ground.  A truly lipless mouth split the ovoid head forever baring triangular teeth in a mirthless grin. A sinuous, half-meter-long neck connected that head with its powerful jaws to the forward-leaning body and its short arms and thick, stubby tail, perched on legs with backward pointing knees and heavy, clawed feet.

In moments of dark humor, Tanaka thought the Eres resembled nothing so much as a cross between a small Tyrannosaurus Rex and an ostrich.

They had been following the kreshak since picking up its trail shortly after the rising of Chakentak’s F5 sun.  Tanaka had spotted droppings that smelled like boiling cabbage. Sheshak pointed out three-toed prints spanning half a meter each in the muddy ground near a small spring. Tanaka noted furrows where the kreshak had used its tusks to root for edible tubers, furrows as neat as any autocultivator could make.  In its passing, the kreshak flattened bushes and tore strips of bark from the occasional small tree.

The sign became fresher as the sun passed zenith.  They were getting closer.

At a small stand of brush, Sheshak stopped and made several gestures in the Eres hunter’s sign language.  Tanaka ostentatiously touched tongue to upper teeth in the Eres gesture of agreement.

Sheshak drew a twenty-centimeter obsidian dagger from the belt supporting the Eres version of a loincloth and began to circle slowly to the right in an effort to get upwind of the prey and flush it toward Tanaka.

Tanaka licked his lips as he crouched in the stand of brush.  The spear seemed feeble indeed against a three-ton monster. Even that was more than Sheshak would have if the kashek chose to charge into the Eres’ scent rather than fleeing it.

Some minutes later the sound of a large body pushing through the brush told Tanaka that Sheshak’s ploy had succeeded.  A few seconds more and the beast hove into view.

Tanaka lunged from his place of concealment, driving the spear ahead of him and into the flank of the kashek.  The razor sharp point bit deep and Tanaka continued to drive it forward until the crosspiece slapped against the beast’s side.

The kreshak howled, a surprisingly high-pitched sound from such a large animal and twisted its stubby neck in an effort to reach the pain in its side.  In so doing it spotted Tanaka. The spear nearly jerked out of Tanaka’s hand as the kreshak charged. Te spear point continued to tear the monster’s insides. The kreshak was effectively dead, but that did not mean it could not kill Tanaka in the process of its dying.

Clinging to the spear shaft, Tanaka skipped backward at almost a dead run.  WEre he to lose his grip on the spear or make one misstep and he could be trampled under the beast’s feet, gored on its horns, or gutted by its tusks—so many ways to die.

Almost as the thought crossed his mind a root caught Tanaka’s ankle dumping him to the ground.  Somehow he clung to the spear as the kreshak’s attempts to reach him shoved him along the ground.  Pain lanced through his back as rocks and branches tore at his flesh.

Unable to regain his feet, Tanaka had just wrapped his legs around the spear when Sheshak appeared and leaped on the beast’s back.  Sheshak’s clawed feet dug into the kreshak’s sides, anchoring him in place. His powerful jaws gripped the back of the kreshak’s neck while he drove the obsidian dagger over and over into the beast’s throat.

The kreshak bucked in rage at the new torment, finally jerking the spear from Tanaka’s grasp.  Tanaka rolled to his feet and backed slowly way from the weakening kreshak.

The kreshak sank to the ground and shuddered in the final weakness before death took it.  Sheshak stood, blue-black blood dripping from his jaws. Sheshak drew the spear, its shaft now shattered, from the still quivering beast and drove it one more time into the kreshak’s side. The kreshak shuddered a final spasm and then was still.

Sheshak turned to Tanaka. “Your people have asked for a drawdown of forces along the border.” The stilted Terranglo came from a vocoder implanted in Sheshak’s jaw. “We will reduce our forces there by eighty percent.  For verification, you may place an observer, a proven hunter, at each of our bases within fifteen of your parsecs of the agreed border and on each of our ships of third fang class or heavier serving in that region.”

Tanaka stared at Sheshak in shock.  He had just preempted what was to be Tanaka’s own opening bid in the negotiations. “I will have to check with my government,” he said, “but I think they will agree.”

Sheshak jerked the spear from the now dead kreshak and held it out to Tanaka. “Good.”

Something was very wrong, Tanaka thought as he took the spear.  Something was very wrong indeed.

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