Chapter 6

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Chapter 6 

He must be tireder than he thought. He was starting to imagine things, Petrov thought as he lay down on his bed, fully clothed to catch a few hours sleep. Leo was just concerned for him, that was all. He wondered what Rhys would look like with a moustache. He had never kissed a man with a moustache, he thought idly as he drifted off, would it be soft or prickly? 

The next day found Petrov following Nguyen, Aslanian and Weiss along a barely trampled path through the forest. All the men had small backpacks on their shoulders with water, food and other emergency supplies. They planned to follow the trail to the river and then proceed north as far as they could go in about four hours. Then they would stop for a meal, before returning along the same path, hopefully much quicker the second time. After about two kays, as far as they knew, they would be the first humans to take this route. 

It seemed that green was a fairly universal colour for plants, although those on Fayruz had a bluish tinge to them. Sunlight fell in dappled patches on both plants and blackish brown soil. The understory was fern like, with wildly coloured varieties of fungi clustered on the ground or clinging to the stems of other plants. Small flying insects, for want of a better word, flew ahead of them disturbed by their passage. Most of them seemed to have only a pair of single wings, unlike those of Earth which usually had two pairs. Nguyen was really hoping to see some avians. So far scientists had found several species resembling starlings in appearance but they had membrane instead of feathers, more like bats. Colours appeared to be fairly dull and monotonous, olive greens and greys, unlike the vivid variations of feathers on Earth birds. Nguyen hoped that more colourful species would be discovered as people explored the planet and he would have given a month's salary to be one of them. 

The four men threaded their way steadily through the undergrowth, following more or less along the river, although sometimes they had to move out of sight, they could always hear it rushing along to their left. Petrov wondered if there were fish in it. He enjoyed fishing on Moonta when he had the chance. Eventually he called a halt, in a clearing made by the fall of a tall tree a year or two ago. They perched on the rotting trunk to eat their lunch, enjoying the forest, reluctant to start the journey back. 

"This has been fantastic," said Aslanian between mouthfuls. "I think I might see if I can take my next leave here, while it is still wild." He added with a touch of cynicism, "I wonder how long it will be before someone starts up guided walks for tourists. Ow! What the-!" he leapt to his feet, clasping his thigh.  

Petrov could see blood beginning to well out of the puncture mark which had gone right through his uniform. At first he thought the other man had stabbed himself on a piece of the tree trunk, but then he saw Weiss swoop up a long wriggling creature from the ground near where Aslanian had been sitting. He thrust it into his back pack, holding it at arm's length. 

"It bit me!" Aslanian exclaimed, rather obviously, in surprise.  

"Take your pants off. We'll need to wash the wound quickly," Petrov directed. Aslanian was already starting to look pale. "Nguyen, can you call for a flyer and a medic please?" They had no idea what the creature was or how poisonous it was but Petrov didn't want to take chances out here in the wilderness. He helped Aslanian take his pants down so he could see the wound, already red and swelling. He poured water from his flask over it to wash off as much of the poison as he could, as Weiss handed him a tourniquet from his first aid kit.  

"Good job getting hold of that creature!" he praised Weiss. That could make all the difference for treating the bite successfully. Aslanian was already half unconscious by the time the flyer arrived and the medic jumped out carrying a bag of instruments. Quickly but carefully she scanned the wound and then took a small sample from the creature inside Weiss' backpack. In less than a minute the medical apparatus had analysed and produced an anti toxin, which the medic applied to Aslanian's leg above the wound. 

"Hopefully that will do the trick," she told the three men standing around watching anxiously. "But I'll take him back with me to the clinic for observation."  

"Can I go with him?" Weiss asked the medic, then turned to Petrov for approval. 

"Certainly," she replied. "But the patient will need to stay lying down so I won't be able to take any more of you." 

"That's all right," Petrov told both of them. "We'll walk back, we were intending to in any case." Nguyen nodded in agreement. 

The flyer took off, straight up through the space above the clearing, leaving Petrov and Nguyen to pack up the remains of lunch. They put everything carefully back into their packs and started down the trail, keeping a more wary eye out this time for any creatures in their path. 

"I bet Aslanian is wishing he hadn't taken the Captain's advice," Nguyen commented ruefully. 

"Sorry? The Captain's advice?" 

"Yes. He overheard me talking about our hike and suggested he might like to come with us. The Captain knows how much he enjoys bushwalking." 

"Oh. Right." Petrov agreed absently. Inwardly he was fuming. He couldn't believe it. Was the Captain still trying to make sure he wasn't alone with Nguyen? Didn't he know Nguyen was straight? Sure he fancied him, who wouldn't, he was simply adorable, but only from a respectful distance. This was getting beyond a joke. Perhaps he should speak to him about it, face to face, ask him what on Earth he thought he was doing.

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