(Copyright) 1997 - 2006 G. Dallman
February 27, 1997 Version 3.0
Revision Date: 05/21/2006
At the Firing Range
Even at more than a hundred meters, their destination made itself evident before their arrival. At twenty-five meters from the door, the sounds of gun-fire echoing down the corridor were near-deafening. About seven meters from the door, they stopped at a kiosk-like pillar that seemed to have risen out of the floor. Aarrl retrieved two large, egg-shaped containers that dropped into a tray at their approach.
Holding an egg between his thumb and fore-finger, so that Howard could see what he was doing, Aarrl squeezed it slightly, causing the container to split along a longitudinal seam. The two halves curled in upon themselves, to reveal two lumps of gray gel. At first, the Human thought those were Gashka-sized ear plugs, but instead of inserting them in his ears, Aarrl stretched each, so that they fitted completely over his ears, concealing them in gray goo.
Howard took his and imitating Aarrl, squeezed the container as Aarrl did. What was for the Ursine a gentle finger-tip squeeze, required Howard to bear down with both hands, grunting with the strain. After he finally got his container open, Howard formed his blobs of ear-goo into shapes reminiscent of folded taco shells and clamped them over his ears. At first, he didn’t notice much difference, the resounding blasts from the firing range still pulled bell-ropes in his auditory mechanisms. The ear-goo wads felt cold and clammy as they seemed to form themselves, oozing amoebae-like into his auditory canals. After about fifteen seconds, he noticed a change as the glop first warmed, then took on a leathery texture. After another ten seconds, the rifle blasts faded quickly to dull thuds.
Howard was expecting muffled silence, but when Aarrl turned and spoke to him, he could hear the Ursine as well as if his ears weren’t encased in whatever-it-was.
“I wish to show you the Dirhal prowess at arms. It is their rule to practice twice each cycle.”
As he said this, Aarrl reached into a container next to the ear-goo dispenser and brought out a large, black ammunition clip holding ten rounds, each of which was the size of a .50 caliber machine-gun round. The cases were of milky-gray plastic instead of brass. With practiced ease, the Ursine stripped a round from the clip with his thumb-claw and handed it to Howard. The projectile, made of a dull gray metal too hard to be lead, was much heavier than it looked as he hefted it in his hand. Aarrl answered his unspoken question.
“You would call it Uranium.”
Saying this, he proceeded through the open door of the target range. As they entered, five Watchers were at the firing line, weapons held rigidly in front of them, pointing toward the ceiling, awaiting the command to fire. Krrfinn stood behind them, the now-familiar ear-goo encasing her pointed ears. On a barked command, with one fluid motion, the Dirhal raised their weapons to their shoulders, firing ten rounds each, in less than three seconds.
Even with ear protection, the combined concussion of five large-caliber weapons made phosphenes swim before Howard’s eyes. The air was filled with acrid smoke for a few seconds before the ventilators did their work, leaving small specks of unburned propellant and cartridge case floating in the air like small black streamers of unburned propellant and cartridge casing floating in the air. Howard tried to see the targets, but they were indistinct blobs, as each was about the size of the palm of his hand and at least one hundred and fifty meters down-range.
The Human’s squinting at the targets was interrupted by a barking, growling tirade from Krrfinn, aimed at a young male SingleRing. He stood, with his tail between his legs, the tip curling in front of him. Without warning, Krrfinn back-handed the hapless male, sending him sprawling, his rifle landing with a clatter, at Aarrl’s feet. After laying in a furry heap for several seconds, the Watcher/First got up and retrieved his weapon, silently assuming a position with his cohorts, against the back wall of the range. A small rivulet of blood ran from his left jowl into his neck fur.
Howard looked questioningly at Aarrl, “why did she do that?”
Without answering, Aarrl motioned for the Human to follow him. As they strode down the central isle of the range, toward the targets, Howard heard Krrfinn’s voice bark a command. Less than two seconds later, fifty massive uranium slugs whizzed by on either side of them, on their way to impact down-range.
“Christ, Aarrl, they’re shooting at us!” Howard shouted, panicking.
Aarrl turned, planting one clawed finger firmly in the Human’s chest. “Do not be absurd! If they were, we would be dead. The targets are There — we are Here,” he said, emphatically pointing, alternately at the targets then the deck between them.
It then occurred to Howard that Aarrl had neither flinched or even broken stride during the fusillade, such was his absolute faith in the Watchers’ accuracy.
As they approached the targets, Aarrl pointed to one target in particular, laying his left index-claw next to the somewhat ragged single hole, dead-center in its middle. Near the tip of his claw, was a slight crescent cut from the edge of the hole, less that three millimeters wide.
“This is wonderful shooting,” Howard exclaimed.
“No!” the Ursine replied, tapping his claw near the offending crescent. “He was inaccurate.”
“But they’re all practically in the same hole!” Howard protested.
“Against the Feltah, — this — is not good enough,” Aarrl growled.
“Surely, this little bit off won’t make any difference,” the Human argued, incredulously.
“The Feltah are either alive or dead. They have no unconscious state. While they are alive, they fight. Just wounding is not enough, they cannot be ‘almost dead.’ Pray the Feltah never find your world. Your species would die at their tentacles, without resistance.”
“I’m sure we would put up some resistance.” Howard countered.
“ ‘Some’ is not good enough,” growled Aarrl with obvious disdain. “The Ta-Kee put up much more than ‘some’ resistance and lost Sacred Teehem. That is why the Patrons chose those Progenitors they did. From them we have inherited the Carnivore’s ruthlessness. Your talk of ‘only wounding’ shows your weakness. Pray Heffnss can cure you of it.”
Without another word, the Ursine turned and walked back toward the firing line, leaving Ripley standing in front of the offending target.
* * * *
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