Chapter 1 - Arrival
I wake up with a pounding head, like the inside of my skull is a drum. I didn’t think I drank that much last night, but maybe I did. I also have to find my clothes.
Someone’s yelling, what the hell is a Ruskie doing here at our party spot? I sit up and look around, and don’t recognize anyone. A big, bear of a man is yelling and waving his arms around, he’s as nude as I am ... they all are. What is going on?
Five of the others are huddled together behind a tall, lean guy with silky black hair and good muscle definition ... yummy. He’s got a stern look but he’s keeping a level tone. I shake the last of the cobwebs from my brain and get to my feet.
“Look,” hunky-guy says. “I don’t know where we are but we need to work together.”
“You have kidnapped me for one of your silly Reality Shows. I insist you send me back,” the Russian-bear yells.
“Buddy, if I knew where we were I’d be heading home right now. This is a survival situation and we need to cooperate if we’re going to make it out of here.”
I move towards the group, hunky glances at me then back at the screamer who’s still ranting. Then I notice some movement in the brush behind him. “We got company,” I mutter loud enough for hunky to hear me. He looks at me and I nod towards the brush. Then there’s a wide-eyed look from him as it comes into view
“That is a damned big cougar,” I breathe.
“That ain’t no cougar,” he says. Then to Ruskie, “You need to calm down and come over here right now.”
“You will not tell me what to do,” the Russian yells back. “If you will not take me back, I will find the way out on my own.” He turns to find himself facing that cat which is only a few yards away from him. Still thinking it’s a Reality Show, he waves his arms at it and screams, “Go away you fake thing. I will not be frightened by animated puppets.”
He has time for a frightened scream as it leaps, but it becomes a gurgle as the cat rips his throat out. Two of the other gals scream and the big cat looks up at us and roars.
“Everyone back away slow,” hunky says. “Don’t run, it’ll catch you and you’ll end up like him.” He puts his arms out, herding us back. The cat gives another roar, then sinks six-inch fangs into the Ruskie’s chest with a crunch and starts dragging the body out.
Once it’s gone, even the sounds of it through the brush fading, hunky relaxes and turns to the rest of us. “Rule one, never stop thinking ... three seconds and you’re dead. Given what we’ve seen, you need to be paranoid about everything around you.”
“Hell of a way to live,” says one of the other men. He’s husky with a shock of red hair.
“We need to find food, water, a way out of here,” a Hispanic gal almost whines.
“Things in order,” hunky says. “Shelter first. We don’t know if kitty-cat has friends. We need to find someplace defensible.” He peers through the trees. “Looks like a cliff face that way,” he says, pointing. “With luck we’ll find a cave that isn’t already occupied.”
“Who put you in charge?” a tall, lanky black man asks.
“He seems to know what he is doing,” a curvy gal with an Indian accent says. “I would say that his suggestion is a good one.”
The black guy scoffs. “Tactical situation. As a Corporal in the National Guard, I got military training.”
“The only thing we have to worry about from a defense standpoint is the animals. Survival is our prime concern,” hunky says. “As someone who does experiential archeology, I’ve made stone tools, cordage and other things we need for that survival.”
“We still need a structure, some chain of command to organize,” the other one says. “I might have no more training than for a team, but what do you have to beat that?”
A sigh and eye-candy chuckles. “I was back in school at twenty-eight to get my masters. My bachelors was paid for by an ROTC scholarship. Work that out.”
The black guy blinks, then stares. “Officer?” he almost squeaks.
A touch to a puckered scar just below his collarbone then another on his left thigh. “Got these in Afghanistan during a firefight as I was leading my rifle company. That’s when I decided that career Army wasn’t my thing. I’m still in the reserves with the rank of Captain.”
“Oh fuck.” Then the black guy straightens and snaps a salute. “Orders SIR!”
Another chuckle and hunky lazily returns it. “Stand easy and knock it off.” A glance down at himself is followed by a quirky grin. “I think we’re both out of uniform.”
The black guy starts laughing then holds out his hand. “Michael John Williams, call me Mik.”
Hunky takes it in his. “Tom McAvoy, welcome to the club.”
“So that’s it, a little talk and now you follow him?” the red-head says to Mik.
“If what he says is true, he outranks me by a heap, I’ll follow his lead long as it don’t put us in danger,” Mik says.
Then something clicks and I look at Tom. “Would that be Thomas Chaska McAvoy from the University of Minnesota?” I ask.
He looks at me and raises an eyebrow. “Ya. How did you know?”
I grin. “I thought being here would make me miss your mid-winter seminar. Now I still get to learn from you.” I turn to the others. “He holds seminars to teach people how to make stone tools the way our ancestors did.” I look at him again and put my hand out. “Jennifer Kee.”
A smile appears as he takes it, and I shiver. “University of Tulsa. I remember looking though your application. Looks like you get the seminar for free.”
“Wait, are all of us in college?” Mik asks. Tom and I look at him and he shrugs. “Junior at CUNY, African studies.” He glances down at his dark body and shrugs. “Go figure,” he says with a grin.
Tom looks at the others. “If that would include culinary school,” the Indian girl says. “Then yes.” A raised eyebrow and she says, “Ahana Kapadia, I’m attending Kendall College in Chicago, third year of a four year program.”
He looks at the others in turn and they give out their colleges and majors.
“Teresa Hasagawa, UW Seattle, Senior, Plant Biology major,” the petite Asian girl says.
The Hispanic gal says, “Carla Vasquez, University of New Mexico, about to get my master’s in Meso-American History.”
“Sean MacNair, Sophomore at USC Columbia, Civil Engineering,” the red-head finishes. “What the hell’s that got to do with anything.”
Tom thinks for a moment with a glance to the woods where the Ruskie’s body was dragged off. “I wonder if ‘Ivan’ was a college student too. Eight random people from all over the country, and we’re all college students. Quite a coincidence.”
“You think this was planned?” Teresa asks with quaver in her voice.
“I don’t know,” he says. “If it was truly random, we’d have people of all ages. We’re all in our twenties it seems.”
“So something picked us on purpose?” Sean asks.
“If it did and it brought us here, then it can probably send us back. We need to survive long enough to find it, which means...”
“Shelter then water,” I say. Tom looks at me and I grin. “My grandfather taught me basic survival when I was a kid. Make me a bow and I’ll hunt us up some rabbit.”
“We’ll put that on the list,” he grins at me. Then to the others, “Mik, you get Charlie position, Sean in the center. Two of the ladies between me and Sean, the other two in front of Mik.” He gives Mik a look. “Hostile territory rules, no getting distracted.”
I see Mik glance at us gals, all of us naked, then a sigh and nod to Tom. “I’ll do my best, but the other scenery is much more enticing.”
Tom chuckles, “Soldier up.” Then a glance across us all. “Everyone keep an eye out for some broken branches or something that we could use as clubs. For now, those are going to be our only means of defense.” Nods all around and he nods back. “Alright, up to the cliffs and see if we can find ourselves some shelter.”
We set off, Teresa and me following him with Sean behind us. I’m sure he’s getting a real good look but as long as he doesn’t try anything without permission, he can look all he wants.
Between looking for a club I take looks at Tom’s behind, even from this angle he looks yummy. Then I notice Teresa looking at me and she winks with a slight toss of her head towards him. I grin at her and she smiles back. I’m not the only one liking the way his muscles move.