Corporal Macgregor was up and ready at 0600. He walked slowly up and down along one of the pontoons in the heavy morning fog, sometimes wishing that he had brought his pipes for an early morning tune. The marine took advantage of his solitude to feed his pet ferret, Private Hood, some of the scraps from last night’s banquet. Greenborough and the others congregated near the boat landing. The station head recommended, “It would be best if the two craft go out in separate directions so all three systems can be calibrated simultaneously without undue interference from one another.”
Greenborough asked, “Would you like to accompany one of the boats, Dr. Tandekar?”
“I would love to! I have rarely been to sea, even on Britain,” replied Tandekar.
MacGregor asked, “Wha’s th’ nature o’ th’ test and equipments on these beasties?”
Professor Lyshol who was checking on the devices mounted on the craft answered, “These sensors can detects objects, movement and life forms even though the pea soup of Venusian water. Until this we had to rely on soundings taken in a manner similar to those 200 years ago.”
MacGregor sat beside Dr. Tandekar who commented, “I am certain you will come to no harm amongst these stout fellows of science.”
The corporal just smiled and fastened his seatbelt, knowing he would not give up the chance to see Venus.
The airboat pulled away from the station in a gust of wet mist, heading out of range of the sensors. Tandekar and MacGregor were accompanied by Professor Lyshol, one of the station’s technicians only referred to as ‘Ed’, and the driver by the name of Dennis Moore.
After a journey of an hour or so, Lyshol spotted a small flotilla of reptilliad natives. Lyshol said he had learned a little of their language and asked Tandekar if he would like to parley. With a sense of elation and caution, the doctor nodded his approval. Both Tandekar and MacGregor recalled Ætherfleet protocols for contacting a new species. They did not wish to create any sort of incident. In the lead canoe was a reptilliad bearing some colorful feathers and beaded necklaces. As they approached, the creatures showed much deference to their weapons. Tandekar and MacGregor knew the natives realized their potential and were afraid.
Tandekar remarked, “It is a bloody tragedy that our culture inspires such fear.”
“It may be, Doctor, but this way they willna come tæ any harm through lack o’ understanding.” “I fear, Corporal, that that is not always the case. My people well know the consequences of empire.” “Sæ do th’ Scots, Doctor, sæ do th’ Scots.”
The colorful reptilliad rose and called to the airboat in his native language. There was much gesticulating and acting out of the message. Lyshol seemed to be having difficulty translating but said, “The colorful one is the tribe’s spirit leader and he is out looking for some sort of island.”
Tandekar added, “He seems agitated, the poor fellow. Actually is that a ‘fellow’?”
Lyshol indicated, “The females are the ones without head crests.”
“Why does he need tæ find th’ island, Lyshol?” MacGregor asked.
The professor made some noises in his throat and nose. The spirit leader replied in a cacophony of noises and gestures. Lyshol translated, “The wives of the chief do not lay eggs, and he searches for a cure.”
“There is a cure on the island, then? I suppose they are asking if we know the way to the island,” Tandekar speculated.
Lyshol stated very matter-of-factly, “When the chief’s wives stop bearing young, it’s usually because the chief is getting a little too long in the tooth. It may be that the chief just can’t admit he’s past his prime, eh wat?”
The driver pulled a box from behind his chair and handed it to Tandekar. The box contained beads, bobbles and standard trade goods. Lyshol stated, “We always carry such things so we can remain in the natives’ good graces.”
Tandekar started distributing the goods to the appreciative reptilliads. “Yes, yes, I am certain they appreciate the trinkets, Professor Lyshol, but what about this ‘island’ of theirs?”
The senior technician suggested, “We are far enough from the base to fire up the new sensors. That should tell us if there are any islands around.”
As the technician and Lyshol worked on the sensors, the rest of the canoes formed around the airboat. The trinkets seemed to be a big hit with all. The reptilliads did not take charity. After receiving something, they left a token or some food on the airboat. The driver put their offerings back in the box, explaining, “The xeno-anthropologist likes to go through the stuff.”
MacGregor looked longingly at the box and realized that the value he put on their trade goods may be as high as the reptilliads put on their offerings.
After fifteen minutes of calibrating and running tests, Ed announced, “The sea depth here is 85 feet and soft. There seems to be a group of plesiosaurs swimming 1100 yards to port and there seems to be a large bottom feeder to the south. Land masses are very easy to find and there are probably none within 10 miles.”
Tandekar asked, “Is there nothing we know about this island?”
Lyshol again attempted to converse with the spirit leader to discover more about the island but only got back snippets and pieces of some age-old mythological legend. The technician felt that the sensing instruments were working fine and suggested they make a sensor sweep of the area as both a test and to collect regular survey data.
The steam coming off the water diminished. It would be clear for no more than an hour before the daily mists started in. “Foggy, like Scotland… I could get used tæ this place. It e’en has their own version of Nessie tæ!” MacGregor murmured.
Lyshol bid farewell to the reptilliads, and the driver started on a search pattern to get readings from the sensors. While the craft was maneuvering about its search pattern collecting data, Tandekar noticed a large puffy cloud on the surface of the water. The cloud looked suspect. It was brightly lit and almost solid looking, not like the rest of the Venusian hazes, mists and fogs. MacGregor spotted a bird and asked the driver, “Wot are th’ bird-lookin’ critters over there?”
The driver had noticed the bird as well and replied, “It doesn’t look like it’s from around here. Doesn’t look like a pterodactyl. If I weren’t on Venus, I would swear that looks like a raven!”
The bird continued on until it plunged into Tandekar’s cloud and seen nevermore.