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by Danielle L. Parker

part 6 of 11

“Splendid! Splendid of you to turn up.” Rutgers drained his mug of mushroom-flavored broth with undisguised relish. Even the belligerent trapper had not been proof against the hungry gleam of the biologist’s eyes. Grumbling under his breath, Bremner had unearthed a third mug.

“I’ve been eating trail rations for three days. Thank heaven for a good spot of tea!” The teakettle in question boiled cheek-by-jowl with Bremner’s cooking pot. “Allow me to offer you a cup, Mr., er... did you say?”

“Blunt. Jim Blunt. Thanks, but I’ll pass. I’m a coffee man, myself.” Blunt knelt to knock out the dregs of soup from his mug. “You did pack some java, didn’t you, Bremner?”

“Never drink de stuff, Captain. Bad for de bladder.”

“You’re fired.” Blunt straightened. He held out his mug. “Well, I guess I’ll have that tea after all. Thanks, Professor.”

“Did I hear Captain?” Brown eyes appraised Blunt. “You do not surprise me. There is about you, sir, an indefinable experienced and cosmopolitan air, in spite of your present rough exterior, that cannot be mistaken for a colonist’s — with apologies to Mr. Bremner, of course. Surely you’re from Earth?”

“Once upon a time. I’m a trader. Got some pelts to pick up in Spit It.” Blunt paused. “The official didn’t mention anyone else headed our way when he issued my travel permit.”

Rutgers cleared his throat. “Perhaps not,” he replied. “That same niggardly official has three times denied my own application. It’s a criminal injustice, Captain! That you, in the name of no more than common mercantilism, should be afforded all cooperation, and I, in the holy name of science, should be ruthlessly denied! Do you have any idea how important it is to document the native flora and fauna in their primordial purity, before the heavy hand of Man destroys or alters them forever?” He sneezed vigorously and wiped his nose.

Teddy Bremner growled under his breath and aimed a stream of brown spit suspiciously close to Rutgers’ sandaled toes. Blunt jerked a peremptory thumb. “Better get those horses settled, Bremner. Tomorrow will be a hard day, from the look of those hills.”

Dummkopf,” the old man muttered. With a last black look at the scientist, he stumped away.

Milton Rutgers, folding his sopping cloth once more to his precise specifications, stared after the broad back. “I offended the gentleman. Well, no surprise there.”

“Teddy Bremner is no gentleman. There’s no room for gentlemen where we’re going.” Blunt tipped out the dregs of over-sweetened liquid from his mug. “That’s something you should have considered before you embarked on your one-man crusade, Professor.”

He knocked back his hat and yawned. “Well, we’d better turn in for the night. We’ll loan you an extra blanket. Looks like you need one.”

The scientist coughed. “Er, yes. Temperatures have been chillier than I anticipated. I suppose this beastly cold hasn’t helped. We have conquered the stars, but not the common cold! Ironic, isn’t it?”

“You could have come down with pneumonia, Prof.” Blunt tossed another armful of leaves on the fire. “Or a pard leaping on your back. I suppose you’d give all six legs a good British drubbing with that toothpick you’re carrying — if you had the chance.”

“Most grateful for your assistance, Captain,” Rutgers replied stiffly.

“You can thank Teddy Bremner’s common sense for a warmer night.” Blunt shrugged. “But maybe you’ll be able to do us a favor in return, who knows? Here’s your extra blanket. Sleep well.”

Proceed to part 7...

Copyright © 2010 by Danielle L. Parker

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