18. Down by the River
Date: 164-993 Imperial.
Location: Miip system (0819), mainworld, uplands.
It was, for practical purposes, a hurricane. The dense atmosphere, laden with water, hit them in the face at 100 km/h. It was slippery, exhausting, dispiriting work that drained them all. Their weather gear helped, keeping half the trouble out, but the other half was plenty to be going on with.
The wind shifted every so often, making anyone who'd leaned into it stumble. Everybody fell, even Thomas who was moving on all fours, and some of them collected bruised ribs or muscle wrenches on trees and rocks they never saw. Fish had a makeshift bandage over a gash within fifteen minutes. Sometimes Luan had to hang onto the Ursa's backpack harness to stay on the ground. After half an hour she started checking the others for hypothermia. Only Silea could ignore the cold.
It took almost an hour to reach the river. "Halt" bellowed Thomas, just before Sir David went over the edge. "We must head downstream to the Kumminisquat tree Turmeigh marked, then find Yvonne. She should be within fifty meters of that."
They found the tree, and were supremely glad of the two fuel-celled flashlights they'd brought from the ship. Yvonne was close by, on the outside of a bend in the river where the water was mercifully slower. She was half-sitting, half lying on her back, with a hefty log across her hips jamming her against a boulder. The water flowed around her shoulders, sometimes splashing her snout. She was about four meters from the shore.
Her eyes rolled slowly towards the torch light, but she didn't move her head or respond to shouts.
Thomas and Sir David moved together to the top of the river bank and took in the scene. The river had cut itself steep banks, which would be tricky even in good conditions. Now it was rain-slicked and muddy. Then there were the five meters of swift, freezing water. On the up side, there were a couple of moderately sturdy trees along the bank which could be used to anchor ropes. But there was nothing overhanging, so they could use ropes to pull but not to lift.
Thomas shouted over the storm. "I hope I can lift the log. But I cannot move Yvonne as well. Somehow you four must pull her out with ropes when I lift."
Fish dragged himself forward and half-mumbled, half-shouted. He was clearly suffering, but still thinking like an engineer. "Bind her with the local rope, it's thicker and won't cut. Then use our three mil cordage to haul. We can tie it onto the pickaxe blade and use that as a handle. We need a tree to tie the pulley..." He scanned the bank and pointed downstream. "That one. We pull downstream, use the current instead of fighting it." After a moment he added "The rope needs to attach low to her hips, to turn her under the log when it lifts. Loop it under her if you can."
Silea joined the huddle. "Join the ropes. I'll go in the river with Thomas. He can lift while I make a rope cradle. You sort the pulley out." She stepped back and started peeling off her outer clothes.
Fish created a deeply unscientific and thoroughly non-reversible knot joining the 3mm and 15mm ropes, then moved downriver. Luan went with him to help, and Sir David stood by to keep the ropes running free.
Thomas went over the lip onto the river bank, slid down the mud on all fours, and hit the river like, well, like an out-of-control five hundred pound Ursa hitting a river at speed. He recovered and started wading, angled upstream against the current. Silea took five huge breaths then slid down the bank after him, carrying the bundle of rope around her neck and shoulder. She seemed to glide into the water like it wasn't there. A couple of meters from shore she started swimming, six powerful strokes taking her outward while the current carried her downriver towards Yvonne.
Sir David watched for a few minutes as the pulley was constructed, and the ropes set out taut. He didn't see much of her, just her feet bracing against the log as she dived to build the rope harness, and her head when she came up breath. After a while she waved him to go and pull on the rope.
So he missed seeing her hands triumphantly thrust out of the river, pushing under under Yvonne's shoulders, making the Ursa's body rotate so her hind legs would slide under the log as Thomas lifted it. Three times he'd lifted the log, and after two failures Silea got the right footing, balance and timing to free Yvonne.
On the shore, the hauling team felt the rope slacken and began to heave. Thomas let go of the log and half-scrambled, half drifted after Yvonne to keep her head out of the water while Silea stroked hard to stay close in case of need.
A minute later they were all out of the water and on a relatively flat patch of river bank. There was no way they were getting Yvonne up the bank and past the overhang, and they hadn't thought to bring a shovel to dig it away. Besides, Thomas wasn't going to be lifting anything more until he'd rested.
So Luan came down on a rope and wrapped self heating emergency survival blankets they'd bought on Sentry around both Ursa. They only covered about three quarters of the torso, but she hoped they would be enough to get Yvonne's core body temperature up and maintain Thomas's.
The Avaricious and the Ursa huddled as best they could and hoped the storm would end.