Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XXXI: Alpine

This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
16 Firstmonth 553JR

Alpine was a world even less developed than Sylvan. Her population was under one million, widely scattered in small homesteads and only six “cities”, each of less than ten thousand. Everyone called Alpine a Frontier world. There was a Net, but its servers were in the planet's only Station, and if its orbit didn't bring it over a user's horizon, there was no access. There was talk of building repeater satellites, but no one cared enough yet to raise the funds.
The people were mostly Human, but there was a significant number of Eyani, most of whom were at least partly Ice Tribe - for Alpine was a winter world. To be sure, the tropics were as pleasant as any other planet which could host Common Life; but the tropical band was much narrower here. Everything above or below fifty degrees latitude was uninhabitable by aliens without artificial means. Above and below sixty, there was little multicelled native life.
Alpine's government was, as most Human worlds, on the Jeffersonian model, except even more limited. Its primary function was as an interface with the rest of the galaxy, and it was funded by usage fees on their sole orbital station, the Marsten Device therein, and two planetside spaceports, around which had grown the two largest of the six cities. Alpine attracted people who wanted to live without government.
Settled over eighty Terran years earlier, it had been struck by raiders twice. One pirate ship left with a handful of slaves, and was hunted down by a Republic-flagged Reserve Privateer within days. The surviving slaves had been freed, the pirates had been spaced, and their ship, claimed as prize by the Jeffersonian RP, had been sold to the Alpine Navy. Which caused said Navy to double in size.
About twenty local years later, the second raider had touched down at Edmundson Spaceport, and never lifted off. For an hour the pirates frantically searched for anything, or anyone, worth seizing, all while ducking rifle fire from the locals - who knew how to shoot, because Alpine's native fauna made Terran polar bears or Eyani orak seem cuddly and sweet. Then, ANS Everest, the former pirate ship from the last raid, had crippled their ship with a single laser pulse the moment she was far enough over the horizon for atmosphere to not disperse the beam too much. The few pirates who survived that had all swung from trees by sundown; Alpiners were not soft men. And, after repairs, the Alpine Navy got a third ship. Word among pirates was, Alpine had nothing worth taking and would probably get them all killed for trying.
There was, however, a small hunting-tourism industry, focused on the native DireBears, some of which were big enough to require shoulder-fired rockets. Another popular target was the Great Snow Leopard, which wasn't really a cat, as the DireBears weren't really bears, but their coats were highly prized; and unlike Terra's snow leopard, extinct for a century before being restored by a two-century-old Jeffersonian gene bank dating back to the Escape, the Alpine GSL's population was secure. They hunted alone and in packs and had been known to bring down DireBears. A Human, or other Common Life, hunter was a mere snack if he let his guard down. Some people argued the GSL should be tested for sentience, though no one had yet been brave enough to try.
Aurora's only three other passengers from Sylvan were in fact hunters, and planned to stay for over 600 hours, continuing home to the Central Worlds on another ship. Statistics said only two of them would survive. They knew it. They were paying for it, and had recorded waivers for the kind of hunting they could find very few other places in the galaxy. New Texas Supercow didn't really count anymore.
Alpine drew the occasional mountain climber too, and there was a ski resort under construction. Glacial water, shipped in Chikaran cryo as a centuries- or millenia-old solid, had some export value. Like Sylvan, once people discovered the place, Alpine's economy had the potential to boom. That would inevitably draw more pirates... but it would also draw Reserve Privateers, and even ships which didn't carry a Jeffersonian Letter of Marque or fly the Star and Bars were expected to be armed, especially when flying Frontier skies.
Some privateers would come for the opportunity, hoping for a pirate attack. A pair of such had crossed Aurora's path at Sylvan, on their way to Oskran still well ahead of the Patrol's light cruiser division. As Solomon Danner well knew, a single successful action could make one's fortune, or set up a Shipfolk family for life. There hadn't been much prize value from the two small ships Aurora disabled over Dakota, and Danner had split that money with Bigelow in recognition of her spirited shiphandling which prevented them from boarding, but other, less-wealthy ships and families would have seen it as a tremendous windfall. If the privateers met no raiders at Oskran, they still had profitable cargoes to sell and buy... or they might contract as mercenaries to the Lii Navy, until the Confederation, soon to be a Member State, could build her own.

Aurora took orbit alongside Alpine Station, which, like Sylvan, was small, meant only for aircars and shuttles; Alpine didn't get a lot of traffic and had no heavy industry or infrastructure. Just curmudgeons, hunt-tourists, and the guides and outfitters. But they did have a Marsten Device, Sixth Generation. Unfortunately it had broken down some 200 hours before Aurora's arrival.
Alpine didn't have a President or Chancellor or Councillor; she was styled Manager. The entire planetary government payroll numbered less than six hundred personnel, half of which were in the Navy. Manager Helena Underwood didn't have a Presidential Mansion either; her official Residence was the Station. Alpine was a laid-back place, so she wasn't frantic about the Device's breakdown - someone, probably from the Navy, would be along to fix it in a few days. But here came a fancy Independent Starship, Republic flagged, and with an Engineer who could probably build a Marsten Device from scraps. “Fix the Device,” the Manager offered, “and you can have free messages whenever you're here. Not like there's a lot of folks waiting to use it anyway.”
This was in fact a generous offer, as Device usage fees were a source of government revenue for Alpine. Blain boarded the Station, performed a diagnostic, and replaced a burned-out component from Aurora's spares in less than an hour. Aurora carried her own Device, of course - every ship with a Marsten Drive did, by definition - at least as powerful as Alpine's and it wouldn't cost them anything to use - but it was a fair bargain.
Also, messages sent from Alpine's Device wouldn't be obviously sent to or from Reserve Privateer CL63 IS Aurora. If Stefan was hunting Agnieszka, that would be one less clue to follow. She started sending those messages.
The h-mail accounts were disguised under the names of employees of Illyrian businesses. Two of these employees actually existed and actually worked at those companies. All the addresses were for Bogdan and his six trusted Royal Guards. Carefully following the instructions, functionally a one-time pad, she generated coded messages which would seem innocent to anyone not aware of the trigger phrases. Sarah, almost as skilled with computers as Grbblb, easily set up a false return address which would be anonymously forwarded to Aurora wherever the ship went. Meanwhile, more openly, Jenny Blain sent h-mail directly from the ship to Professor Symanski, following up on their days of discussion and research on Marsten Drive technology and theory and, as subtly as she could, asking after conditions and recent events on Illyria.
Then they waited.

Illyria was only a few hours away from Alpine by Marsten Device, but Bogdan's parting message had made it clear there might be a delay in response. Trying to cheer Agnieszka, Sarah suggested they and Holly take Two Boat sightseeing. To Sarah, she would always be Anna, the sweet redheaded girl, and not the disputed Queen of an entire world. Agnieszka quickly lost herself in Alpine's spectacular scenery, enormous glaciers calving into the oceans, vast forests, tremendous mountain ranges, herds of tens of thousands of grazers crossing plains which reached from one horizon to the other - these latter were also observed under attack from packs of the Great Snow Leopard. Sarah also served as Aurora's official photographer and recorded video she expected to sell to Alpine's tourism industry.
Sarah loved hunting, and the rest of the crew sometimes teased her about being their resident orak - usually while accompanying her and bringing down their own game, much of which would later be served to passengers. After the sightseeing flight, to make their delay for replies from Illyria plausible, the crew arranged with a local guide for a hunt-trip against two species of herd-grazers, analogous to buffalo and antelope and roughly equivalent in appearance and behavior - and less likely to hunt the hunters. With no other passengers at present, and Aurora (whom the rest of the crew now considered the Third Mate) looking after herself, the whole family, and Agnieszka, came down, even Daisuke, and each hoped to harvest one of each. If successful, Clancy's cryopantry would overflow... into the Chikaran-cyro-equipped main cargo holds, to feed crew and passengers for some time. There were plenty of the animals to go around, darkening the landscape like pre-colonization or post-Liberation America; licenses and seasons wouldn't be needed for another century, if ever.
They started with the Jackalope, which bore a startling resemblance to the pre-Escape gag gift - which most Humans had never heard of. Only Ralph Vatelius, with an interest in pre-Escape popular culture, made the reference, which the rest of his family didn't quite get, though obviously someone among Alpine's original settlers had. Their horns were small but they had large, erect ears to help them detect and avoid predators. Otherwise they resembled American Pronghorn, though nearly twice the size, and were as difficult to stalk. The guide made them sight-in their rifles - slugthrowers, as energy weapons caused too much damage to meat and hide, and were also considered cheating (though there was no such restriction, official or otherwise, on DireBears) - at 300 meters, on holographic smart targets which simulated vital areas and likely reactions.
On these, Holly, the never-really-retired Marine, and Sarah, the avid huntress, both using Wartime-style Dardell M17s in 8x30mm caseless, quickly brought down five simulacrums each... with exactly as many shots. Prrg managed the same, though at a slower pace. Danner wasn't as much a hunter as an arms enthusiast, but only failed his first shot with his pre-War 6.5mm M11 (an original, though the cartridges were necessarily fabbed), hitting too high and not striking a vital area. His next four were all clean kills and the guide, a grizzled but vigorous old woman who could hold her own against Cates and Heusner in marksmanship, nodded satisfaction. Clancy, using a straight-pull bolt-action repeater, handmade by one of his innumerable cousins in Ireland and firing pre-Escape-style metallic cartridges, missed his first two, blaming, with honesty, a lack of practice; Hlossh did the same with a sleek five-shot autoloader based on a pre-Contact Boksi infantry model. Epstein, with another M17, missed three, not in a row, and was accepted with reluctance by the guide. After these, Jenny and Ralph begged off, but Daisuke matched Solomon's performance with a real antique, a pre-Escape Miroku-built Browning M1895 lever-action, which the guide eyed with envy.
After his mostly-tacit conversation with Taniyama during Transit, Danner now noticed a family mon on the rifle's stock, matching that on the Purser's wakizashi. In both cases, most of the silver inlay had been removed, along with the material it had been recessed into so the shape could not be discerned, leaving only a silver ring with several inward-facing points, seemingly randomly spaced, where the pattern had been cut away. Danner considered having Aurora do an image search.
And decided not to.

Sarah, ever the extrovert, asked Anna if she wanted to try. “Come on,” the Eyani said to the Human, “think of it as another skill to gain.”
“I don't think I can meet your standards,” the redhead demurred.
“I think you can,” Danner said. “The sight does most of the work-” Sarah was offering Anna her own M17, with a somewhat updated Marine-issue electro-optical sight with ballistic compensation; Danner's M11 carried a passive optic and he had misjudged the holdover for his first shot- “and you've been trained, by myself and Holly.”
“And,” Sarah added, “nothing tastes better than meat you've claimed by your own hand.”
“Well... all right. I'll try.”
The guide's homestead and business - Emmy Jorgenson and her husband Glen also served as butcher and taxidermist - was at forty degrees south latitude, on the edge of what a Terran would consider the antarctic zone. Naturally she had her own rifle range; she wouldn't guide people who couldn't make a respectful kill. The range was only one lane but reaching to 1,200 meters, with modern holographic targets simulating every game animal on Alpine. The Jorgensons weren't outfitters, only guides; the outfitters set up their shops in the smaller latitudes, near the spaceports, and posted customers to the Net, which pinged the guides every two hours or so as the Station orbited. Then the guides would fetch the tourists in the guides' own aircars, or the customers would fly theirs to the guides.
Aurora's family hadn't bothered with the outfitters. Sarah was an experienced huntress, even collecting a polar bear on Terra since she joined the family, and knew what everyone would need. Aurora already had everyone's measurements and it was short work to fab cold-weather gear, boots, and other necessary equipment on board. They'd taken Three Boat directly to the Jorgensons', and would continue with it to the hunting area. Emmy gave Sarah, and her gear, a long, searching look, then the rest of the family- then simply gave an approving nod.
Anna/Agnieszka, as taught by Danner and Cates, adjusted the butt's length of pull and comb for her smaller body (Sarah Heusner was actually larger than most adult Humans, but as she usually walked on four of her six limbs, few realized it), put on the sling, got into a prone position on the packed snow of the firing line, and shifted around until she found the Natural Point of Aim. Since the optic on Sarah's M17 was military-descended, though it did have a laser rangefinder, it was also stereoscopic, a shrouded lens flipping out to the side and folding when not in use - a laser could give away one's position to an enemy with night-vision devices, or very simple sensors any enemy would be presumed to have. Also, since the laser never worked right on a holographic target, the stereoscopic method had to be used.
Once settled, she adjusted herself as the optic directed for elevation, released the safety, and squeezed the trigger. This being Sarah's personal rifle, the trigger was excellent, under 2kg and perfectly crisp. The Dardell - this was a modern reproduction, along with its cartridges, from Aurora's fabbers - shoved against her petite shoulder as the rifle cracked.
The simulated Jackalope fell instantly. “Great work, Anna!” Sarah exclaimed. “Four more!”
The Jorgensons followed the same tradition as most guides on Alpine, or nearly anywhere in Republic space for that matter; five shots with the same weapon and ammunition the hunter would be using, on a simulation of the intended prey, at the most expected distance: Two from prone, two sitting or kneeling, and one standing, though the last was usually at a shorter distance to simulate a target of opportunity or a successful stalk. Anyone with less than three kills was generally declined.
Anna missed only her last, standing. Everyone could see her flinch, and the round went quite wide. Scratching her chin, Emmy offered, “Tell you what, kid. Make one more from prone and one more from sitting, and you're okay. Or-” Emmy turned to look at Solomon, and his 6.5mm- “maybe she just needs something lighter. That six-five will do on Jackalope, if you place it right.”
“Ah-” Anna looked between Solomon and Sarah. “I, ah, haven't-”
Solomon nodded. “That's right, you haven't used the M11, but you're more familiar with the M17. The controls are about the same, but the stock isn't as adjustable. Sarah's rifle is already set up for you, and she can switch it back for herself in a few seconds.”
Anna, afraid of giving offense if she were to decline his offer, smiled at Solomon. “Yes,” she said, “I'll continue with this.”
She easily made her next two shots, and Emmy laid a hand on her shoulder and said, “If you have to make a standing shot, well... don't. At least not this trip. But if you can find anything to brace against you should do fine.”
Preparations complete, the family, Anna, and Emmy all boarded Three Boat, filling all the passenger seats, with Emmy in the copilot's seat so she could see where they were going. “I understand you were sightseeing yesterday?” Emmy asked of Sarah as they lifted off.
“That's right,” the Eyani answered, bringing up a map and the video she recorded. “We saw a big herd of Jackalope about 200 klicks northwest of here, heading south.” It was springtime in Alpine's southern hemisphere.
Emmy nodded. “That'll be the Novi herd,” she stated, “migrating to the Campagna Fields for grazing and birthing. Twelve or thirteen thousand of 'em. It'll take 'em another month to get there.” Three Boat was quiet in atmospheric flight and everyone aboard could hear the conversation. “Y'all better keep a lookout though,” she went on. “Could be Leopards about. Circle of Life, and all that,” she added with a grin, over her shoulder to the passenger compartment.
Several hands reached to touch several sidearms.

Under Emmy's direction, Three Boat quickly found the Novi herd. The boat was at altitude so as not to spook them, but they couldn't be missed.
“Reminds me of Montana!” Sarah said. Bison had made a comeback, in a big way, after the Liberation of Terra. The Terran Empire's century of genocide had something to do with it of course....
“We'll have to hike in,” Emmy said. “See that river fork to the south? Set us down just this side of it, there's a little stand of trees there with a clearing in the middle to hide the boat.”
The landing presented no challenge to Sarah. “You ever need a job as a bush pilot,” Emmy commented, “you'd have your pick here.”
Sarah smiled. “Thanks,” she answered, “but I already have a pilot job.”
After checking weapons and gear, the party began hiking north. Hlossh couldn't move as fast as the others for extended periods, so he rode on Sarah's back. “This herd knows what guns are,” Emmy explained as they walked, “so at the first shot they'll scatter. It may take an hour for them to re-form. But during that time each of you should get a chance.” Ralph and Jenny weren't hunting, but were coming along nonetheless, with cameras, sidearms, and extra gear in case they had to camp. “Figure out who you want to take the first shot.”
“I suggest Anna,” Danner said. “She'll have time to get into position and take a prepared shot. She's sure to make a hit that way.” Sarah and Holly agreed.
“I'd better go last,” Jack said, “if I go at all. After the herd re-forms, I'll set up like Anna.”
“In that case,” his wife Jenny suggested, “maybe Jack and I should set up further south, to meet the herd as it comes to us? Otherwise we might be in a stern chase with the herd.” Even though Jenny wasn't hunting today, and rarely had, she was... smart.
“Splitting the party's not a good idea,” Emmy protested.
Jack answered, “We can take, let's say, Ralph and Clancy with us. Clancy's a better shot than me, and Ralph's our doctor. And we all have sidearms.” The three men carried the usual M437 plasma pistol, while Jenny carried a reproduction Casetti M169, the iconic 10mm caseless pistol used throughout the War and more than a century before.
“How about comms?” the guide asked.
Sarah checked her 'puter. “Aurora is coming over the horizon just now,” she noted. “She can repeat for us if we get out of range of each other's 'puters, or if terrain blocks the signal. Right, Aurora?”
Yes, Sarah,” the ship answered. “I can see and hear you for the next half-hour.
“Not long enough,” Emmy said. “We could be out here all day, and your ship would only be overhead every couple hours.”
Aurora,” Danner ordered, “deploy repeater satellites.”
Yes, Captain. Deploying now. I will have full coverage before loss of direct signal.Aurora carried a number of her own satellites, simple and cheap by modern standards but they would have made a NASA engineer weep with shame. Her remaining missile tubes, which could also launch Mobile Infantry entry pods, were essentially mass drivers, and hurled them to their own necessary orbits. They each had enough reaction mass aboard to make a minimum-energy recovery, or they could be fetched with one of the ship's boats. In the worst case they could be abandoned, and she could fabricate more in her own shop. Without organic oversight. She rarely used them; over more developed worlds she didn't need them, and they might interfere with other orbital platforms. Here they actually served their intended purpose. Later, when the Manager learned of them, she bought the set before they were recovered - thus negating construction and launch costs. They were standard designs which the Navy already had documentation for, so they could service them thereafter.
“Hmm... all right,” Emmy said. “You four stay here then, near the boat, and the rest of us will go north. This is the herd's normal river crossing, and it'll take a lot to divert them. When they re-form after the first shots, they'll be heading right for you.” After using 'puter maps to point out good shooting positions for the second party, Emmy took the main group to meet the herd.

They hiked north for an hour, putting about five kilometers between the two parties. The terrain was mild - the Jackalope was a plains species, after all. There were patches of snow, but not as much as the Jorgensons' homestead further south. The two parties stayed in touch, their 'puters still in direct contact at this distance. Ralph commented on the local plant life and how, though obviously different from Terra's or Monticello's, it filled the same ecological niches. According to a quick analysis by his custom 'puter, which he sometimes, with a grin, called a “tricorder”, it was probably edible by most herbivorous Common Life. “That, rather than the Alran,” he noted later, “is more evidence for some ancient progenitor race. Or God, if you prefer.”
Soon they approached the herd. Emmy directed the main party to defilade positions on a small hill. “We're downwind,” she observed, “so they should get much closer than we expected. Anna, you can probably make your shot at a hundred meters. Males only,” she instructed. “They've already done their duty by this time in the season, and we'll leave the does alone. The does have straight horns, the bucks are forked.”
Sarah moved next to Anna, ready to reclaim her rifle from the Human girl after she'd made her shot. Holly set up alongside and would wait for Anna. Solomon, Daisuke and Hlossh would take their cue from her. Though magazines were full, everyone figured on only taking one buck each, with an unspoken challenge to see who would make the cleanest shot.

Alpine wasn't actually a Jeffersonian world, but the Republic's influence was strong in language, culture, and traditions. In turn, the Republic was a direct descendant of the United States of America. There were two hunting proverbs Emmy Jorgenson used, possibly unaware they were first expressed centuries ago by two different Americans, long before the Founders' first secret starflight.
The first was from firearm experimenter and writer Elmer Keith: “Use enough gun.” The second, from another writer of the same era, and an instructor whose methods were still the foundation of modern techniques, Jeff Cooper: “Get close, then get closer.” As to the first, the 8mm Dardell was easily the equivalent of the legendary .30-'06; Daisuke's antique Browning was a .30-'06; Danner's 6.5mm and the others' rifles were in the same league. As to the second, rather than stalking the herd, they simply waited as it passed beneath their hill.
There were enough cameras, on clothing and weapons, to reconstruct a full holographic record of the entire hunt. Later it was simple to determine that Anna's chosen buck was 79 meters from the muzzle of Sarah's rifle when she fired.
It was a perfect shot. The Jackalope was built similarly to Terran ungulates, and the traditional shoulder/heart shot worked as well on them as on any deer or antelope. The buck took two steps and fell over.
As Anna handed the rifle back to Sarah, Holly took her shot as the herd exploded in an omnidirectional stampede. Now all the targets were moving, but Cates easily made her hit, safed and slung her rifle, and watched the others with a satisfied smile.
Solomon and Daisuke were waiting, but Sarah had quickly readjusted her rifle's stock and sling, and matched Cates' shot, knocking down a third buck, followed closely by Prrg. Hlossh made his shot a moment later, hitting high and breaking the spine. It wasn't getting away, but Hlossh quickly gave it another round, to the heart this time, to give it grace.
Daisuke, with the discipline of a traditional nikkei upbringing, calmly led his target, and as though performing a kata squeezed the trigger with perfect follow-through. His buck went down to stay.
That left Danner, and with some apprehension he selected a buck cantering toward him, presenting a frontal target. Emmy had shown them diagrams of the Jackalope's vitals and Danner could see the heart in his mind's eye now. It was a zero-deflection shot, simple....
A tawny blur erupted from nearby shrubbery and bowled the buck over.
It was followed by another. Then a pair. Then a dozen.
Emmy shouted, “LEOPARD!”

As the guide unslung her own rifle, Holly Cates reached to stop her. “Wait!” she said. The Gunner's own M437 was in her hand, but she wasn't aiming it. “Look!” With her free hand she pointed to their left.
Three Great Snow Leopards were about 150 meters away, in plain sight, looking directly at the aliens on the hill... and doing nothing. “And there,” Cates added, pointing to the other side, where two more - all of them bigger than Sarah Heusner and far more predatory in appearance - were doing the same.
“Don't aim at them,” Cates called to the others. “Just wait.”
Ralph-the-Scientist would complain bitterly about missing the next few minutes. The not-cats, of which the cameras found twenty-two and Aurora's satellites found another five, less than fifty meters behind the hunting party, harvested fifteen Jackalope.
All bucks. Some put up an impressive fight with horns and hooves, while the does, many of them obviously pregnant, ran away unmolested.
After sniffing each one, the Leopards left the five other bucks, shot by the hunters, where they lay.
Their own hunt complete, the Leopards dragged their harvest away to the northeast. Aurora took initiative to alert Danner to the other five, the rear guard, which waited until the main pack was out of range of the hunting party's rifles, before splitting up to steal away themselves. The family had never seen them with their own eyes.
“Gods... and demons,” Emmy Jorgenson breathed, the first words from anyone in a good ten minutes. “What in all the hells just happened?”
“Do they usually attack?” Danner asked.
“Yes, but-” Emmy shook her head in disbelief. “If our party were smaller, I think they would have. Oh-!”
Cates was already on the job. “Jack, Jenny!” she called through her 'puter. “Leopards in the area. Keep a lookout and get back to the boat, fast. Do not engage unless attacked.” The acknowledgement came back in a moment.
Aurora, show us the other party,” Danner instructed. While Cates, Heusner, Taniyama, Hlossh and Jorgenson kept watch around them, eyes outward and weapons at high port, Aurora projected an image of the other four family members moving in tight formation back toward Three Boat. “Any other Leopards nearby?” the Captain asked.
None that I can detect, Captain. However, they are very stealthy. Even infrared is having difficulty tracking them.
Danner turned to Jorgenson and asked, “The Jackalope travel in herds for mutual defense against the Leopards, right?” The guide nodded. “So if something causes the herd to scatter, that makes the cats' work easier, they only have to fight one at a time. How long have you been hunting this herd?”
Emmy blinked several times and had to think a moment. “Maybe twenty-five, thirty years. Why?”
“And you've always taken just the bucks? Always after mating season? Leaving the does to replenish the herd?”
“Yah... what!” Her eyes went wide.
“How many Leopard attacks on people have there been in this region?”
“The last one on this migration route was....” Emmy's eyes went even wider, and her face paled. “About twenty years ago.”
Danner nodded. “And you already told us you don't guide Leopard hunters.
“Yeah,” he went on. “Someone ought to test those cats for sentience after all.” He stood, from where he had lain prone on the hilltop to attempt his shot, and slung his rifle. Three Boat was lifting off to reunite the party and collect their game, but he was confident they were in no more danger in any case.
“And if it turns out they are people,” he added, “teach 'em to count. Damn cat stole my buck!”

The family declined further hunting on Alpine, having enough adventure to last them a while. On the flight back to the Jorgensons' to process the game, Danner was struck by another thought.
Maybe the “cats” could count. Hlossh had fired twice - and Solomon would bet a kilo of silver they knew what Emmy Jorgenson's job was.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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