Thursday, May 26, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars - Chapter 12 – An Encounter With The Mang-aso

Chapter 12 – An Encounter With The Mang-aso
Private Fandru returned to inform me about Melderk’s movements. First he went to a bar, then to the Guard’s barracks, and finally to the Mayor’s office. This is pretty much what I had expected. It was one more bit of circumstantial evidence against the government, bit still not the definitive proof that I needed.

The next two weeks were tense, but uneventful. Then the tension, for us at least, was reduced by the arrival of reinforcements. We were now up to our three company allotment. We were also given two Gatling Guns and a 1.65 inch Hotchkiss mountain gun. These gave us some much needed firepower. With this influx of equipment and personnel, the Martians spent a lot of time reflecting on their next moves.

With the free time available, I was able to learn how to ride a Moa-iti, the smaller of the two riding birds. Being so mounted gave me a much greater range of operation. In order to take advantage of this increased mobility, I needed at least one companion. For this, my friend from the restaurant, Borlak, recommended a mercenary scout named Chronto. He was a staunch member of the democracy movement, which meant I could trust him with my life.

An interesting feature of Martian cognitive development is that their ability to learn languages remains active throughout their lives, whereas for most humans, myself included, this faculty goes dormant in early adulthood. That only a small percentage of humans retain this ability is what makes men like Professor Edgren so valuable. Chronto’s exposure to Professor Linton (at various Democracy meetings) had already given him enough command of our language so that we could communicate without assistance.

So it was that Bully, Chronto, and I went exploring to the south of the fort. As we rode, Chronto described many of the plants that could cause my men and I grief in combat. We also discussed the political situation as best we could. We were even able to teach the other a few words of our respective languages.

We moved out of the cultivated area, the country watered by the canals, into what is called the marginal area. This zone receives runoff from the irrigation, making it wetter than the desert. The plant life in this area is a hybrid of cultivated crops and desert flora. It was here that Chronto began point out some of the wildlife. We saw many varieties of birds, reptiles, and small to medium sized mammals. Being out in the country raised the urge to hunt. I was carrying a Remington-Lee bolt action rifle, my pistol (with the holster modified to the western style), and my saber. In Martian society, skill in hand to hand combat is prized more than any other martial skill. My defeat of Melderk with a single blow greatly increased the credibility of our martial prowess.

As we rode, we spotted a herd of wild Bumatak. This large mammal resembles an earth rhinoceros with a single massive horn. It is covered with a thick short hair. The bumatak has been domesticated and is used as a beast of burden, pulling Martian wheeled transports or simply loaded down with various trade goods. I asked Chronto about how we could procure a few Bumatak to transport our artillery and camp equipage. He told me that Borlak could help me with the acquisition of the animals that I needed.

As we rode on, I saw in the distance an animal that was most extraordinary. This seems to be a hybrid
creature, a cross between a giant ape and a bear with peculiar features of unknown origin. The creature’s Legs are short in comparison to its body, resembling the hindquarters of a bear. Its long body, above the hindquarters, and its exceptionally long arms are distinctly ape-like. The head and long neck is anomalous to both bear and ape. In its normal “knuckle walking” posture, it stands about 12 foot tall. Chronto told me it was called an Ahvasi. He described the Ahvasi as omnivorous. Its main diet is made up of plants and berries, but this is supplemented with meat. They have been known to hunt in packs of up to 8 animals. Typically, they hunt small to mid-sized animals, but attacking man sized creatures is not uncommon.

We stopped for lunch in a brushy area. With a high temperature in the 70s this time of year, the rest was quite pleasant. Lounging on the ground was a welcome relief after four hours in the saddle, especially since it had been months since I had ridden anything. Chronto busied himself making the noon-time meal.

It was then that Bully came to attention. At first he sniffed the air and, facing to the southeast began a low growl. I quickly grabbed my rifle, stood up and looked in the same direction as Bully. I could see nothing, but Bully continued in his agitated state, so I remained vigilant. Chronto, noticing my actions, grabbed his weapon and joined me.

“What is your animal doing?” he asked.

“He smells something he does not like.” I replied. “However, being unfamiliar with how scent travels on the Martian air, I cannot venture a guess as to how close the creature is.”

Chronto said, “shall I go look for the creature?”

“No.” I said. “Let’s stay together. I do not want either of us to be caught at unawares, and Bully will let us know when it gets closer.”

Chronto nodded. In a few moments, Bully’s growling became more pronounced and even our mounts began to show signs of agitation. Bully began to turn his head and moving about the camp.

“Your animal is acting strangely.” Chronto said.

“It appears that there is more than one thing out there and that they are trying to surround us.” I replied.

With that Bully started barking fiercely in the direction of our moa and the birds were wild-eyed with fear. I turned in that direction just in time to see a large quadrupedal beast lunge from the brush. I threw up my rifle and fired off a snap shot, hitting the beast between the shoulder and neck. It crashed limply to the ground, the shot apparently breaking the creature’s backbone. 

The moa were frantic and tore their reins from the tree where they were tied and bolted. I dropped the rifle to try to catch them, but the attempt was in vain. As I moved after the birds, Bully rushed in the direction of Chronto. I heard Chronto scream and the report of his gun. I turned to see another of these beasts standing over him with Bully jumping around snapping at the creature. I drew my pistol and knelt down so that the angle of my shots would not hit Chronto. When bully hopped out of the way, I fired, hitting the beast in the shoulder. The creature screamed like a wounded lion, then bolted out of sight. Bully moved to give chase, but I ordered him to heel. I heard other movement through the brush, that was moving away.

I rushed over to Chronto to discover his condition. He was laid out, facedown on the ground. There were a couple of minor scratches on his arms and back, but nothing too serious. I gently rolled him over and saw a bloody nose and a few more scratches on his chest. These were a little deeper, and possibly more serious. I fetched a water bottle from the cooking supplies and splashed water over his face. This revived him somewhat, and he began to come to his senses.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“Yes, I believe I am relatively whole.” He said.

“Sit here and rest a bit,” I said “I will get some bandages to dress your wounds.”

I went to our supplies again and found something to use for bandages. I then retrieved my rifle and went back to help Chronto. I cleaned and dressed his wounds, after which he had regained his wits and determined that his wounds were mostly superficial. We moved over to our camp and asked him what had happened.

“We were looking into the bush, when I saw your animal race toward our mounts. Then you turned and shot the mang-aso. As you were trying to get our mounts, your animal rushed in my direction howling madly. I turned to see another mang-aso was on me. I fired my gun, but missed and was bowled over by the beast. It’s head smashed into my face and with that I lost consciousness. You must tell me what happened after that.” He said.

I replied, “I heard your shot and turned to see the creature standing over you with Bully snapping at it, which I believe kept you alive. I moved in closer and shot the beast with my revolver and it ran off into the bush.  I also heard other creatures move off with the wounded animal.”

Chronto said, “The mang-aso usually hunt in packs of from seven to twelve animals.”

The mang-aso is a large animal, easily twelve feet long. It’s physiology has aspects of canine and feline anatomy. Its head resembles a mastiff while the body is somewhat cat-like, though heavier. It’s canine teeth are oversized and therefore, the Mang-aso would be classed with the saber-toothed animals of prehistoric Earth.

After I made Chronto comfortable, I went out to find our moa-iti. I was expecting to find scattered feathers and bits of harness, having been told that there could have been up to twelve of the creatures that assailed us.  Fortunately, our birds must have run in the opposite direction from the fleeing mang-aso. I found our mounts, no worse for wear, some distance off cheerfully pecking at berries.
I returned to camp with our mounts and found Chronto in a much improved condition. We finished our midday meal and packed up our kit.  I asked if he felt that he could ride, to which he replied in the affirmative.  Then we mounted up and headed home.

As we rode, Chronto said, “Thank you and you animal for saving my life.”

“Don’t mention it.” I said. “ All members of an expedition are important and we must do our utmost to ensure their safety.”

“Here,” Chronto said, “only the moa-nui will fight alongside their masters and then only after a long period of training. Your animal, Bully, came to my aid even though we are strangers.”

“Yes,” I replied, “Dogs are pack animals and protection of the pack’s members are their foremost concern. Because you were traveling with me, you are considered part of our pack, and afforded all of the rights of a pack member.”

Chronto pondered this at length as we rode home.


  1. HHmm - I think some of these creatures might find there way to Bogavania. I may have to do some conversions on some Kinder egg animals.