Renita Cortez turned and looked at Billy Conroy when he slapped at his neck. She smiled as he swatted at the bug buzzing around his head.
“They’re big enough to suck the blood right outta ya if ya let ‘em” said Billy, seeing Cortez looking back at him.
Sergeant Brackett raised his hand to halt the group when he saw Charlie Two Sons coming back toward them.
“I think we’ve reached the edge of the jungle up ahead,” the big Indian told Brackett. The sergeant nodded and waved the group forward, following Charlie to the break in the jungle ahead. They stopped at the outskirts of a huge clearing that extended as far as they could see.
A herd of what looked like small, longhaired horses grazed on the sea of grass that lay ahead of them. The bellowing roar that the group had been hearing periodically during their time in the jungle caused the herd to stop grazing and raise their heads. Their twitching ears and searching eyes sought out the first sign of danger.
The herd bolted a second before the gigantic, lizard like creature crashed through the edge of the jungle and raced across the clearing in pursuit. The lizard’s surprising speed closed the gap between it and the fleeing horses quickly, setting its sights on the smallest horse struggling to keep up with the herd. Stretching his neck, the predator lunged at its prey.
The lizard rolled in the short grass, kicking up a light dust cloud, and rose from the ground with the flailing horse clamped tightly in its jaws. With one violet shake of its head, the lizard flung his prey to the ground, securing it with a clawed forefoot. The giant raised its head to the sky and bellowed a roar of triumph.
Maia wrapped her arms tightly around Cortez’s thigh and looked up at her guardian. The freelancer patted the young girl’s shoulder and leaned over to Billy Gilroy standing beside her.
“And you’re worried about big bugs,” she said and turned her attention back to the scene unfolding in front of them.
The giant lizard flicked his forked tongue and looked at the herd disappearing in the distance. It lowered its head, picked up the horse in its jaws and moved slowly back toward the jungle.
The freelancers stood motionless until the crashing movement of the big lizard faded in the distance. A final triumphant roar echoed through the jungle marking the predator’s exit and broke the tension of the tight group looking on.
“Again I say, welcome to our new home, people,” said Mike Brackett, setting the safety on his pulse rifle.
“Lord, help us,” said Doc Hunnicutt, slowly crossing himself, “we don’t know what we’ve gotten ourselves into.”
Maia didn’t release the tight hold she had on Renita Cortez’s thigh until the quiet jungle slowly started to return to life.
“You alright?” Cortez asked her ward, getting a nod and a half smile in return.
Mike Brackett pressed the mic to his throat. “Mister Miles.”
“Yes, Sergeant,” replied Gordon Miles. “It’s good to hear from you.”
“We’ve found a place that will accommodate the transport ship. We should be able to set up here for a couple of days until we can get her cargo bay unloaded. We’ll scout a perimeter and get back to you.”
“Very well, Sergeant, we’ll get things together up here and wait for you to give us the go ahead.”
Brackett turned to the group standing around him. “Alright, people, let’s give ‘em somewhere to land.”