Standing in the Grey River

"They're on their way towards your position. I say again, they're on their way towards your position. Thousands of them. Stampeding. Get out, get out now. Acknowledge!"

"Acknowledge mobile one, but we have nowhere to go and there is no shelter in the ravine. Request emergency airlift, repeat, we need emergency airlift."

"For pity's sake man, what does it take? There's no time for an airlift, no time for anything, just get out of the way!"

The nine members of the crew exchanged worried glances, then began searching frantically around for shelter. They were in a flat bottomed ravine, thirty metres wide with unscalable sides. They looked all around, and one by one, stopped as the sight below them registered. It had taken half of this planets day to hike this far up, they would never be able to get down in time.

"So, we can't run, we can't hide, what now?" Asked Kris Calen, searching each face for an answer.

"This is where we all die, crushed to pulp by a bunch of sheepoids the biologists said were harmless.

"Shut up Paul, there must be something we can do."

"Yes, I agree." Symon Goodwin stepped forwards. He was nominally the team leader, but was so ineffective he was mostly ignored. As he was now.

"Yes? Like what, dig a hole in this solid rock?"

Kris stood motionless for a while, then suddenly cried out in triumph. "We've got guns, in one of these packs. Come on help me get them out."

Several of the crew helped Kris locate and distribute the weapons. There were smiles of relief all around as the crew pointed the weapons at the ravine sides and pretended to fire them.

"Now tell them properly Calen, go on, tell them."

"What's he talking about," someone asked.


"I'll tell you." Paul shouted, and fired off a shot, blasting a good sized chunk out of the ravine floor. Turning quickly he pointed the pistol at Calen and pulled the trigger again.

Cries and gasps fell to silence as nothing happened, Kris remaining in one piece. The silence of the crew was lengthened as another noise crept into their hearing. A deep rumble, more vibration than sound.

urning slowly, the nine had their first glimpse of the trouble to come as a wave of grey dust billowed into sight in the continuous wind.
Someone shouted, "What's wrong with the guns?"

"Nothing, nothing is wrong with them. They are pulse charge laser pistols. They charge, and hence discharge, in pulses. Saves weight, saves money, and let's face it, there isn't anything dangerous to man on this planet is there?" Paul finished sarcastically.

"Now arguing isn't getting us anywhere is it? I read in a book once..." Symon began.

"So we can shoot one in ten of them and the other nine will mow us down, great."

"If you'll let me finish." Symon persisted.

"Alright, keep your hair on, but be quick, we have about two minutes before its revenge of the mint sauce." Paul stomped away a few paces and began sighting along his weapon at the oncoming cloud.

"Now, as you know I'm a great reader, but none of this Ebook nonsense, all sex and violence. Anyway, I was reading a book the other day, a history book it was, with real paper pages, and I think I have a plan. We can't run, nor hide, so we stand."

Symon organised the crew, getting them to pile up their kit in a rough triangle with the top pointing up the ravine. He then had them form three rows, three to a row. Even Paul joined in, because, as someone pointed out, no one else had any ideas. The mass of sheepoids was visible now, grey legs and grey heads pounding along, rolling down the ravine with the surging cloud front. Hundreds wide, shoulder to shoulder, not stopping, not slowing, showing no sign of having even seen the humans.

"Now, those at the front, kneel down, that's it, right down. Those in the middle kneel up, yes that's right. And we at the back stand."

The noise was building steadily, one continuous note, a vibration, through the ground and through the humid air.

"Now, all your pistols should be charged, the little green light on here yes?" He waited for eight nods, got seven but saw Paul's for himself.

Symon had to talk louder until he was shouting. The noise echoed from the walls, whipped along by the wind. The smell reached them first, a cloying fruity smell, sickly sweet and almost too much to bear.

"When I give the word, I want each row to fire in turn, aiming for the front line of sheepoids, but only those directly in front of us, we'll let the rest go by either side."

The eight men and women gripped their pistols, their knuckles white. Symon looked at each in turn, waiting for a nod of understanding. Each a scientist who only once or twice in their lives, to satisfy mission directives, had handled firearms.

"If we fire in order, by the time the back row have fired, the front row will have recharged. Don't fire until I say. If we can keep up a steady pattern we can clear a path wide enough to pass through. Everyone ready?" Again he waited for the nods, this time receiving all eight.

They were as ready as they ever would be. Nine humans behind a flimsy barricade of surveying gear and field rations. Palms were sweating as the pistols were gripped too tightly. The smell was growing ever stronger, and those kneeling soon began to feel the hardness of the rock.

The mass of animals was before them now, filling their vision. Closer it came, ever closer.

Time stretched.

- Copyright Steve Dean