I made it to the top of the stairs again. The cardiologist diagnosed me as having a severe atrial arrhythmia which, as far as I could tell, meant that my blood didn't circulate efficiently to my lungs and back. That and weighing three hundred pounds made my future existence pretty bleak. Still, I soldiered on, not having any alternative.
I was still huffing and puffing, making my way down the hall to my office door. I was fumbling my keys much worse than normal. I felt like somebody hit me in the shoulder with a Louisville Slugger. I went to my knees, then my face. I didn't have the energy but to feebly raise my hands to my belly before it all went away.
I opened my eyes and said to myself, "That was a fast onset. I thought heart attacks were protracted while aneurysms and strokes were fast.
I heard a noise like someone clearing their throat. I opened my eyes and turned my head. Now there was a fellow I didn't want to meet in a dark alley, or a dark anywhere! Well over seven feet tall, built like a pro wrestler, bald, slightly green complected with brown patches and, if I wasn't mistaken, he was covered with tiny scales. Something was wrong. I wasn't scared shitless. I asked, "Chlorophyll adaptation?"
He smiled. "I've not heard that as a first question before. No, swamp adaptation. I'll give you a present if you can demonstrate a brachiating adaptation."
I manipulated the tissue ridge over my inside lower finger joints. "Flesh pad here, plus callus ridge orientation on the fingertip pads."
He nodded. "Good. The rotation pattern of the shoulder joints are another clue. I will give you one hour to collect all you can hold in your hands before you are transshipped to another planet."
I squirmed up my face. "Don't tell me you poor bastards have sociologists, too?"
He looked as if he'd been beaten with a stick. "Afraid so. Afraid so. My gift will be integrated into your rejuvenation. We can't have you kicking off from a bad heart the first week. Everyone in the project gets healthy before they get dropped. Your time starts now."
A big countdown timer appeared on the wall while he just went "poof". I didn't have time to wonder about how he did it. I ran outside with my keys in hand looking for my truck. I had some heavy camping gear stashed there in a storage box. Things like oilskins, a two-pound hammer, a diamond-point shovel and a bag of quarter-inch sisal rope were in the back as well. There was also a fresh bag of contractor's trash bags and some miscellaneous fire-pit tools behind the seat. No doubt that they didn't do my gas mileage any good, but I had a cardboard box with a duct-taped bottom containing one foot long forged steel tent pegs. If I could carry the damned things they were coming along. In the foot well of the passenger seat were my long, fancy tent pegs for boggy sites and my squirrel fork. I hacked it all back to the apartment and snatched up my backpack.
I figured that I could hold up two hundred and fifty pounds for a short period, using a strap around my neck to help hold up my hands. I proceeded to stuff that big Kelty external frame pack with everything that came to sight, including pants, boots, a shirt and three wool blankets. I kept a revolver in its factory original blue plastic box in a locked closet as well as a .45 derringer with its bag of bullets and .410 slug shells. I had recently bought a very nice cutlass and sheath that I might finally get some use out of. I had bought a 24" rope saw in a can that I thought was cool, but would probably never use. It looked like the chain part of a chainsaw.
My heaviest camp knife was thrown in, then I pulled a big flour sack out of the pack to fill with three five-pound bags of flour and a five pound bag of salt. I had bought a few little bottles of olive oil with an eye towards camping. Those went in, along with a quart plastic bottle of corn oil and two more five-pound bags of salt. I also stashed a can of baking powder along with several jars of peanut butter and jelly. I'd just bought a five pound bag of white potatoes and a three pound bag of sweet potatoes. I hung them from the pack by S-hooks. The fridge had a quarter of a boneless ham in it that I'd been making sandwiches out of. There was a sliced half-ham in the freezer. I triple-bagged both of them with all my available ice cubes and stuffed them in the pack as well.
I still had twenty minutes. I spotted a bag of carrots and a three-pound plastic tub of lard in the fridge and five pounds of corn meal. That reminded me to grab my pepper flakes and powdered hot pepper. The celery seed and whole peppercorns were right next to it which I also snatched. The pack was past full. I had a day pack that I'd thrown in the corner which I proceeded to stuff. I carefully looked around my over full apartment. Beeswax candles. lamp oil. A big ball of cotton string. Paracord. Hatchets. Flint and steel. Lighters, A jar of sulfur. Soap. Lots of soap. over-the-shoulder M3 medical bag. A fresh bottle of Gorilla Glue. A big fat spool of artificial sinew. Spare baggies, stuff 'em in anywhere they'd fit. My big LED-converted aluminum club of a Kel-light. All the batteries in AA and D size that I had. A little sewing kit. Compass. Esbit fire starter cubes. An open-bottomed tent. Camo tarp. a fine mesh screen inner tent designed to frustrate bugs. More wool blankets.
I opened up my tool kit. Wood chisels. A cold chisel. A small hand full of metal files. Pliers, several pair--Needle nose. Sliding jaw. Vice-grips. S-hooks. A box of long reproduction rose-head nails had to come in handy sometime. canvas buckets. A two quart cast iron cooking pot with a lid, on feet. A six-inch cast iron fry pan. I said to myself, "What the hell" and latched onto my ten inch aluminum Dutch oven too. My little gridiron. Spare socks and underwear. I had an oilskin waterproof poncho somewhere. Where was the damned thing?
I wrapped everything in the tarps and hefted it in my arms just as the timer clicked over to zero. Pow! I staggered dizzily as I found myself on a perfectly flat white surface half the size of a football field.
"All right, let's see what you've got."
I started laying everything out on the tarps. He asked, "Why the big garbage bags?"
"If I split a couple at the seams they should make a great waterproof roof when held down by cord or lashings and withes. Windproof layer for winter, too. When I get around to weaving baskets they'll make great waterproof liners."
"Whups. No firearms. Sorry."
"Drag. What about throwing spears?"
"I've got a thrower upstairs in the closet, and a dozen cast steel points. Add the Gorilla glue and fake sinew I've got in the pack, and I'm set with what I can find for the wands near almost any swamp."
"Go. You've got five minutes to grab what you can."
Pow! What a shock to the system. I was upstairs in the apartment. I snatched a couple early American hunting shirts, a big wool over shirt, my atl-atl thrower and the contents of my projects drawer, which coincidentally held those points. I remembered that I had a pair of real ugly sheepskin leggings and a wool breechclout in a box. I spotted a three-gallon blue speckle-ware water boiler that I'd stashed in the closet. Lastly I grabbed a pair of pigskin gloves, an eight pound can of pennies, a full bag of big copper rivets along with their ring-set and a palm-sized punch. More AA batteries. I needed to deform those pennies into little cups for the rear of my atl-atl flights. I figured that I'd never be seeing that room again. I spotted a 2-quart canteen in a bag. Then I looked over my little tool kit. I snatched a tee-grip hand drill and all the quarter-inch bits I could quickly find. The few half-inchers were snatched up, too. I put the bails for a big steel bucket and a smaller brass pail over my arm. I was looking around for more loot and was moving towards my presentation knife box when everything went Pow! and I was back near the rest of my stuff. I saw his eyes open wide at my arms full. I innocently said, "You DID say to grab what I could."
His smile was a trifle forced. "My bad. Let's see what you picked up this time. He nodded. "Well chosen. you won't starve from not being able to hunt and you have everything you need to build an indecently good shelter. The cold chisel and files were actually a very good choice. There is workable stone where you are going.
Now, these are the rules. Pay very close attention. Everyone that gets transported is given a seven day grace period to familiarize themselves with the area. Nobody but you can get into or out of your sanctuary, but you can pass through both ways freely along with anyone you are touching. The natives are hostile. Think middle ages brigands or a pirate town. It is truly a lawless environment. Think the worst and it probably happens in the towns, daily. This is a very long running experiment and all the staff involved are too cowed to change anything. There's bows out there and crossbows so be careful. There's very little organization. Think gangs and bosses."
Poof! A big high-walled, farm-sized wheelbarrow appeared. "Stuff your things into that or you'd never be able to move it all. I saw a long hatchet in your gear and a limb saw. You'll need them to make a path for the barrow, but you'll have to hide your traces too. Take a deep breath, now--
.... There is more of this story ...