Shoot the Sun, part 8

A projected image of one of the males was on the screen. Everyone took notes while reference books were strewn on the large wardroom table.

Everyone was arguing about which specimen of the Homo genus he was. He didn’t match any of the skeletal remains from Old Earth. He was closely related to Homo Erectus except for minor differences but those differences made it clear he wasn’t the same.

The Anthropologist, William Brandon, held up his hand and reminded everyone that this was not Earth and the rules didn’t always apply.

“Remember, our human ancestors had been reduced to a few thousand at one point and almost went extinct. It was sheer luck they survived enough to bring our line to the top of the evolutionary ladder. There were a lot of competing species that could have nudged them out of the competition for good. Who is to say that didn’t happen here?”

Marla was glad someone had pointed that out. “If we all agree then I say we need to name this new species. Who was the one who found the flint knife?”

“Warren Bailey. A Seaman Apprentice.”

The young crewman was brought before them moments later and Marla stood up to address the confused Coast Guard System Technician who looked at her, wondering why he had been summoned.

Marla pointed at the image on the screen. “See that? This handsome fella is a whole new species to our surprise. Typically, when one is found, at least with humanoids, they are given nicknames. This guy and his kin are now dubbed the ‘Bailey Man’.”

Warren’s mouth opened and closed several times before he asked her to say that again. She chuckled and told him as the one who first discovered them he had the honor of having them named after him.

The young man grinned wide. It would make one hell of a footnote on his service record. He saluted her with enthusiasm and left the room, eager to spread the news.

The days passed quickly as the scientists did their best to follow and learn about the new species. They got quite a bit of recording from distances but wanted some images close up. They had two days remaining of their stay and the researchers decided to press their luck.

Six of the researchers, armed with pistols and tranquilizer darts, followed the signal of the transmitter until they believed the group was close by. They listened carefully until they heard movement just ahead. They wanted to see what would happen if they faced the clan. They waited patiently until the primitives were in a large clearing near a dried riverbed. The scientists didn’t want to get too close in fear they would either attack or run. The group was about 40 yards away when the researchers stepped out from their hiding place and faced them.

Immediately the males positioned themselves between the females and the intruders. They raised their weapons, spears and heavy sticks, menacingly while they barked out warnings in their own language.

Jonathan spoke softly to the others, warning them not to move.

The males were nervous. The intruders neither moved nor threatened them. Strangers rarely trespassed unless they were raiding for females or food. The largest one struck his possessions together loudly then held them high, making him self look larger and more fearful. The adolescent males shuffled back and forth, occasionally tossing bits of dirt and grass into the air.

The protective males made the same sounds repeatedly, convincing Jonathan that they had a language of some sort.

After several minutes of threatening posturing, the males stopped and stared at the strangers, unsure of how to deal with them.

Jonathan slowly reached into his pouch and pulled out a large melon and held it outward in a giving posture. He slowly stepped forward, only stopping when they looked ready to bolt. He stopped where he was and slowly lowered the melon to the ground and backed away.

When he got back to his friends he suggested they all leave quietly. Either the fruit would be taken or not but they wouldn’t press their luck further. Tomorrow they would try again.

The next day the scientists stood out in the open beneath a shady tree. In the shade of another tree further away was a pile of produce. They hoped that the natives would be brave enough to come close enough to take the offered gifts.

They waited for quite some time before the sounds of something rustling in the tall grasses caught their attention. Finally, one of the small female children stepped out into the clearing, alone.

The Anthropologist thought about that and decided the group considered female children more expendable. He watched the girl nervously step closer to the tempting pile of food and reach out with one hand. She quickly snatched up some of the greens and rushed back into hiding. None of the scientists moved. They waited patiently until the girl once more went through the same steps and escaped with the food.

Once again the researchers remained passively still. Finally, one of the adult females stepped out slowly and approached the pile of assorted fruits and roots. The researchers had also included a cooked fowl, trying to determine if the group used fire. If they did then the cooked grouse would be familiar enough to be eaten.

The woman snatched up the cooked bird and ran to the edge of the tall grasses where the others had to be waiting just out of sight. The group stepped out into the open warily as the woman began doling out pieces of the fowl to everyone.

William was glad to see them step into view. They at least were willing to allow them a little closer even if they were still frightened by the strangers. Once the grouse was finished off the group headed for the remaining food. The large males kept an eye on the researchers, weapons held ready. The smallest male, who was dubbed Barney, pointed at William, who was a redhead. He could tell his appearance was in question by the small male.

The leader, dubbed Arnold, grunted without taking his eyes off the strangers while the young male disappeared. Several minutes later he returned, carrying a plant, roots and all. He stepped closer to the strangers, halfway between the two groups and indicated to William the plant was for him. The researcher tilted his head as a sign of curiosity. Barney took one rubbery leaf and rubbed it against his forearm then held out the plant as he stepped closer.

William was careful to move slowly and took the offered plant. He glanced at it and recognized it as an aloe plant. It seemed the native knew the value of a medicinal plant. William opened his mouth, making a happy chimpanzee face. He didn’t want to risk smiling in fear they’d see it as a threat by baring his teeth.

He rubbed the broken end of the plant on his sunburned skin, showing he accepted the gift. Barney mimicked the same expression and backed away. The last of the food was collected and the natives disappeared into the tall grasses.

“It’s a shame. We made friends and now we have to leave,” Franklin commented.

The ship was once more under way and William and Marla asked to speak with Captain Harrison. She led them into the wardroom and they sat at the table.

“What’s up?” she asked without pretense. The scientists had a habit of wanting to change plans.

William glanced at Marla, silently asking her to start.

“We’d like to return to California without stopping for research. Finding the Bailey Man is too important to wait. We need to speak with Cierra White to see if we can go back with a larger study group.”

Janice raised one eyebrow. She couldn’t say she was surprised. “Well, I’m certain my crew wouldn’t argue with it. We’ve already been at sea for five months. It will probably take three or four months to reach California. We’d still have to stop for provisions once in a while. It’s a long trip between Hawaii and the California coast. If Hawaii is still there that is.”

“Then you’ll do it?”

“Who am I to say no? My orders were to take you to locations so you can collect samples. If the head of the scientific team wants to finish early I’m agreeable. Besides, it’s easy enough to collect core samples while the hunting parties search for food, isn’t it? We’ll still have samples to make the people back home happy.”

The researchers smiled in relief.

Theo, the botanist, noticed the aloe plant that William had potted. It was sitting next to him at his workstation.

“Hmm, this is odd,” he mumbled as he picked up the container.

“What is?” William didn’t even look up from his notes.

“This plant. Where did you get it?”

“From one of the natives. He saw my sunburn and got it for me. It’s just an aloe plant.”

“No it isn’t. It looks a lot like aloe but it isn’t.”

“You could have fooled me. See this?” William pointed to his forearm, “Where I applied the aloe gel cured the sunburn. Hell, I didn’t even freckle there like I normally do.”

Theo leaned to examine the arm better. William was correct. There was a rounded area where the skin was lightly and uniformly tanned instead of pink. Normally the gel should have merely eased the pain of the sunburn, not cure it.

“Do you mind if I borrow this? I want to do some tests. Maybe even have Kyle do some experiments with it.”

“Sure, go for it. I collected a couple more of them after it helped my sunburn. I was planning on using some after I finished my notes.”

Kyle did some preliminary testing but it didn’t tell him much. He just didn’t have the lab on board like at the University. There he could have tested the gel on an assortment of cells. The best he could do now is some experimenting. He collected some samples of gel and placed them inside very small plastic containers. Armed with a baggy of Q-Tips and gel, he wandered the ship looking for people with small cuts, cold sores, and sunburns. He wanted to see how quickly each healed.

He tried the galley first. He found one of the food technicians with a scald mark. The man agreed to use the gel on one side of it to test its effectiveness. Another person doing K.P. had few small cuts on her hand. She would apply the gel to one cut but not the other.

The researcher managed to find a guinea pig for each container and had them promise to show him the areas they used it on the next day.

To his surprise, every person showed a remarkable improvement where it was used and wondered if they could get more of the gel. He hesitated, unwilling to kill off the plant he had. He mentioned trying to find more of the plant if they went ashore again on the African coast.

Two Months Ago

Doctor Sanchez snapped at the nurse, “Carla, pick Eva off the floor. Pat, get me a couple of clamps, the baby has the umbilical cord around its neck.” Sandra did her best to reassure Pam, while she eased the cord away from the baby’s neck as best she could. The infant wasn’t showing serious signs of oxygen depravation yet and they just needed to cut the cord early before delivering the child.

Pam struggled not to push in spite of the natural urge that insisted that she do so. She gripped the edges of the delivery chair and grimaced. “Carla, is Eva okay?”

Carla Brown had managed to haul Eva’s dead weight over to a cot and place her limp form on top of it. “Yes, she just passed out. Don’t worry about her.” The nurse positioned herself close to the working doctors, prepared to fetch whatever they might request.

Sandra had clamps positioned on the umbilical cord and was preparing to cut it.

“Okay, it’s cut. Pam, when I tell you to I want you to push, alright?”

Pam nodded her head, in too much pain to speak. Another push pain wracked her body.

“Okay, push now!”

Pam push for all she was worth, knowing a few good pushes would end the worst of the pain. Carla whispered encouraging words to her as she felt her body push the baby out, inch by agonizing inch. Suddenly the baby’s shoulders made it through and she felt the baby nearly glide out effortlessly.

 Sandra caught the child and handed the baby to Pam so she could clean the baby and remove the mucus plug. “It’s a girl, just like you hoped, Pam”

The English woman laughed and sobbed the same time, happy the baby was alright. Sandra helped her deliver the afterbirth and eased her through the contractions her body went through after giving birth. By the time they finished Eva was coming around.

Carla and Pam’s eyes met and the women grinned. The engineer had suffered through sympathy morning sickness and pains. Eva had been a wreck almost the entire pregnancy and the women of the colony had secret pool going on how many minutes after the first hard contraction that she would faint.

The nurse took a cool damp towel and walked over to the cot. She applied it to Eva’s sweating brow and told her not to move yet.

“The baby?” the engineer asked shakily.

“A little girl. You want to meet your daughter?”

Eva nodded and sat up with the nurse’s help. Once Carla was sure Eva wasn’t going to pass out again she brought the bundled baby to the pale engineer. The baby was dozing peacefully, tired out from her experience. Her dark lashes fanned her golden-skinned cheeks. She had dark silky hair and an adorable snub nose. Eva grinned from ear to ear.

“She’s so beautiful!” she whispered loudly to her partner. Pam smiled at the scene. Eva might have been a wreck up to this point but seemed serene now the baby was in her arms.

Eva looked away from her daughter for a moment and met Pam’s dark eyes.

“Next time I want to be the one who has the baby.”

Pam blinked. Maybe it was her turn to pass out.

Continued in Part 9

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