Wolf's Bounty Page 8

The shuttle lurched into something hard and massive on its left side and it was over in seconds, the craft coming to a shuddering stop. Larsson had slammed his head into the wall next to him, and he must have lost consciousness for a few minutes. When he awoke, Tarr was leaning over him, turned around in what was left of his seat and running his hands along both sides of Larsson’s head.

Larsson fought him off, pushing his hands away. He sputtered a few seconds and then lashed out at him. “What the hells kind of landing was that, Tarr? Gods, you almost killed us!”

Tarr drew back with an aggrieved look on his face.“That was an excellent landing. I got us down in one piece, didn’t I? Wewere out of fuel!”

“And whose fault was that? What kind of crew leaves the shuttlecraft almost empty? No, don’t tell me! A halfassed, irresponsible, harebrained bunch of Rogers, that’s who!” Larsson was shaking, partly from anger, partly from the close call, and he wasn’t ready to calm down yet, despite the fact he knew they needed to get out of the wreckage before the damned thing blew up.

“Get me out of here, damn it!” He was struggling with the harness holding him in, as the controls had been crushed in the crash.“What the hells did we hit anyway?”

“A mountain,” Tarr said calmly, pulling out what looked like a wickedly sharp knife to slice through the harness, freeing him.“There’s a range that runs along the side of the river here, but the shore was the only halfway clear spot I could see to put us down. Hey, at least we found water.”

Larsson shot him a disgusted glare and began hauling himself out of his seat, not easy with the entire left side of the craft caved in. Tarr thrust open the hatch and boosted himself out, reaching back for Larsson, who ignored his outstretched hand and pulled himself up. Now that he was out of the shuttle, he could get a better view of where they landed.

The water in the river was a deep cerulean blue and ran along the side of sheer cliffs for as far as Larsson could see, before it twisted off to the east, following the curve of the mountains. They had landed on the narrow shore of this river. On the other side was a thick, verdant jungle. The heat was oppressive, but not intolerable, and big, dark clouds were boiling over the sky, promising a rain in the near future.

“We need to find a shelter and soon, from the looks of it,” Larsson said and glanced over at Tarr, getting a good look at him for the first time since they landed. He was holding himself at an odd angle and looked as if he were close to collapsing.

Larsson grabbed his arm.“What’s wrong with you? Sit down for a minute—you’re hurt.”

“Just a scrape or two,” he replied with a negligent grin. He grimaced, though, as Larsson put an arm around him and eased him down to the sandy ground by the river.

“Lie back—let me see.” Larsson pulled up his shirt and was shocked to see the angry red marks along his ribs that would soon turn to nasty bruises.“You’ve broken some ribs,” Larsson said, his voice tight with disapproval. “And here,” he gently touched a huge spot on his abdomen that looked eminently painful.“You might have some internal bleeding.”

Tarr’s breathing was getting more difficult and more rapid. With a little cry, he suddenly turned his head and spit up bright red blood onto the sand. Larsson could see that he was in a lot of pain and tried not to show Tarr how concerned he was.

“Can you shift and heal yourself?” he asked, a crease forming between his eyes.

Tarr shook his head.“Not with you here. Ourtigers don’t retain any of our reasoning when weshift. I’d simply see you as prey and try to kill you.”

“Why don’t you let me worry about that? You’re really hurt, damn it.”

Tarr shook his head stubbornly.“No. It’s too risky. Just get me somewhere I can lie down for a little while before this storm starts.” Larsson glanced up at the sky and indeed, the first drops were starting.

“Hardheaded ass,” Larsson mumbled, but helped him to stand and half-carried him over to the side of the cliff face nearest them. There was a slight overhang of rock that might keep him marginally dry until he could figure something out.“Rest here and let me look around.” Larsson stood and pointed a finger down at him.“Don’t move. Understood?”

Tarr nodded without comment, which alarmed Larsson more than anything he could have said or done. He went back to the shuttle and stood for a moment looking at it as if an answer might suddenly present itself. When nothing did, he moved around to the back of the craft and finally located what he’d been looking for—a piece of one of the heat shields that had sheared off the craft, but was still hanging on by one corner.

Even so, he had to partially shift to be able to tear it free, and by that time the rains had started in earnest, coming down from the sky in blinding sheets. At least the rain would thoroughly soak any remaining sparks in the wreckage, so he didn’t have to worry about it blowing up any second.

He dragged the big metal sheet over to cliff face and propped it against the side, then carefully pulled Tarr underneath, trying not to hurt him any more than he already was. Tarr was still conscious, but shivering and groggy from pain. Running back to the ship, Larsson clambered back inside the hatch and searched under the console for a first aid kit, sending up a silent prayer to the gods that someone had sense enough to put one there.

He found it finally, stuck up under a stack of what looked like old trip logs. He ran back over to Tarr with it under his arm, along with an old mylar blanket he’d found under the seat. The blanket was one used by the Alliance troops in the field, and he wondered briefly how Tarr got his hands on one, but then decided he probably didn’t want to know.

He wrapped the blanket around Tarr, made him dry swallow some pain capsules he found in the first aid kit and then used the gauze strips from the kit to try to stop some of the slow bleeding on the back of his own head. Larsson’s partial shiftthat he’d done to be able to wrench the metal shield off had taken care of most of his bruises and cuts, but the one on his head had been a little deeper and was still seeping blood.His head didn’t hurt, though, and he figured he must have cut it on something during the rough landing, rather than knocking it against the hull.

Tarr was shivering still, so Larsson crawled under the blanket with him and wrapped an arm around him, scooting up close to spoon him. Tarr glanced over his shoulder at him, raising one eyebrow and Larsson bristled.“This is not cuddling, so don’t get any ideas. I’m simply trying to keep you warm because you’re going into shock. Soshut up.”

Tarr gave him the ghost of his old cheeky smile before he turned wearily away, and Larsson squeezed him even tighter, more worried than he wanted to admit, even to himself. He had no idea what time of day it was, or even how long the daylight lasted on this moon. From the position of the sun in the sky, it looked as if it were close to sunset. Tarr had fallen asleep when the rain stopped drumming so hard against the makeshift roof over his head, so Larsson slipped out to go in search of something to start a fire with.

He didn’t know if there were any animals to speak of on this planet but he didn’t want to take any chances. A big fire burning through the night would not only keep them warm, but hopefully keep any curious animals away.

He wandered down the riverbank to a copse of trees some fifty yards away, and found that the foliage was thick and abundant. Here there were exotic-looking trees with long branches drooping to the forest floor with spiny needles that nonetheless kept out the rain. Up under the trees, the ground was warm and dry. He quickly gathered some limbs that had fallen, along with a few he cut from the underside, using Tarr’s sharp blade. He also picked up some of the dried needles that had fallen to the ground as a fire starter.

He made three trips back and forth to the trees to get enough wood to last them through the night and spent some time carefully starting his fire. As a child, his father had taken Larsson and Konnor on camping trips in the mountains on Lycanus 3.He’d taught them some valuable woodcrafts and perhaps the one he remembered best was starting a fire, maybe because it was so hard and took so long. He foraged a piece of steel from panels inside the craft, so all he needed was a piece of flint. After scouring the rock face for an hour or so, he found some rock that wasn’t flint, but was hard enough and sat down to patiently make his spark, which he then transferred to his tinder.

It seemed to take forever, but fire made, he checked on Tarr again and found him deeply asleep and a little feverish. In the morning he would make him shift, that’s all there was to it. He crawled back under the mylar with him and tangled his arms and legs around him, listening to his soft snores. Tarr had to get better. Hewouldn’t think about any other possibility. Finally feeling warm, Larsson drifted down into a restless sleep.

Tarr woke up hours before dawn cold and uneasy. He couldn’t recall exactly the unsettling dream that woke him, but it was all mixed up with being unable to find Larsson in a burning building, running down one hallway after another and then falling helplessly into a void. He must have made a little sound of fright and pain, because Larsson came awake beside him and sat up.

“What is it?” he whispered loudly, scanning the space all around him. “What’s the matter?” “Nothing,” Tarr said.“Go back to sleep.”

“What do you mean nothing? You were whimpering in your sleep.”

Tarr turned an incredulous look on him. “I didn’t whimper. I’ve never whimpered in my


“Mm-hmm.Well, somebody did and it wasn’t me. Areyou in pain?”

“Not too bad,” he said, shifting uncomfortably.“My stomach hurts.”

“You need to shift, damn it.”

“I can’t, I told you. My tiger would kill you.”

“I’ll take my chances. “

“Well, I won’t.” He turned over resolutely and put his back to Larsson again, but a warm

hand ran down his bare arm.

“Stubborn ass.I can take care of myself.” Tarr made a non-committal little grunt, and

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