Up a Tree p.4
But there was something funny about the foliage here. It was a low mass, huge rosettes of large crinkly green leaves, quite unlike the tree leaves.
"OI!" The man beside him yelled out as she floundered, ripping and tearing at the leaves as she tried to gain her feet. "Don't trample the lettuce!"
The Doctor turned to stare down at the little man beside him. He was old, wizened, tough looking, and was wearing a faded green coverall (complete with chute) and a wide brimmed straw hat.
The Doctor looked back to see that the strange foliage was actually row after row of closely planted heads of lettuce, all growing directly out of the tree bark.
"Amy!" he yelled through cupped hands. "Don't move. Keep still! Just hold on and we'll come get you!"
The thrashing red shirt half buried in lettuce leaves relaxed and grew still, virtually disappearing among the foliage.
"I assume there is some way to get her?" The Doctor asked the short man beside him.
"'Course." The man looked him up and down, tweed jacket, bow tie and parachute. "You're new."
"Biologists, just came to see the planet. I'm the Doctor," the Doctor held out his hand. The small man shook it with a casually iron grip.
"Axel. You'd think biologists would have better respect for crops," he said with the lament of farmers everywhere.
"Sorry, no one told us about the chutes," the Doctor said.
"Wouldn't be the first time," Axel said.
"Oi! Little help here!" Amy yelled from the end of the branch, booted feet kicking in empty air.
"Right! Sorry. So what do we do?"
Rory and the instructor came panting up beside them, having taken the less daredevil route. "How are we going to get her out of there?" Rory asked. Seeing his wife floundering at the end of the branch, buried in green.
"Just reach up, above you there, Doctor, and pull down that lanyard. We'll have her out of there in no time. And maybe save my lettuce a beating while we're at it."
The Doctor looked up to find a guyline had been strung along the top of the branch, he pulled down the handles on the wheeled rotor and watched as Axel snapped his harness onto it.
The little man zizzed out over the top of his produce, feet up out of the way and stopped above Amy. He gave her some instructions that the Doctor and Rory couldn't hear. She climbed to her feet carefully and the little man swiveled in his harness and wrapped his legs around her waist.
"What's he doing?" Rory said, stepping forward aggressively.
"He's helping her," the Doctor said, laying a restraining hand on Rory's arm. "Watch."
Amy laid her hands along the farmer's coveralled shins and stepped forward gingerly, walking carefully down an invisibly narrow path between the vegetables. The little man zizzed along above her pulling himself along hand over hand, helping her keep her balance.
Amy stumbled out of the garden onto the wider surface of the branch, the little man unwound his legs from around her and she launched herself into Rory's arms. Her husband hugged her fiercely.
The little man casually unclipped his harness and dropped lightly to the branch. "There you go. Safe and sound."
"Don't do that to me!" Rory whispered fiercely into Amy's red hair.
Amy thumped him on the shoulder irritably, "I didn't do it on purpose!" she grouched. She was still shivering, and clutched him tightly.
The Doctor grinned, reassured that she would be fine. He left her to Rory and knelt and examined the edge of the line of lettuce at the front of the branch. The heads were a good two feet across, with plater sized leaves layered all around. He brushed the outer leaves up out of the way and saw the leaves were rooted directly into the tree bark.
Axel knelt down beside him.
"Fortunately, the facilities of the colony ship survived and we were able to adapt our foodstocks, alter them to grow parasitically."
"So," the Doctor said. "They draw their nutrients right from the tree? The tree draws up the water and nutrients from the soil and the crops grow from that? It's like hydroponic gardening, only not wet! I love it!"
"Would you like a tour of our farms? I figure a biologist might be interested," Axel offered, waving a hand to encompass a large section of the outer branches. The Doctor stood up. There were nets and guylines strung all around the outer branches, making it look like some sort of giant spider's paradise. And there were some very strange looking vegetables growing out of the branches.
The Doctor craned his neck and stretched up on his toes in excitement, trying to see everything. "Would I?" He jittered, looking back to Emma, then back to Axel, then back to Emma, then back to Axel again.
He grit his teeth in indecision, then cocked both forefingers at Axel. "I would love a tour, but I think this incident proves we'd better learn how to use our chutes first. Can I get a raincheck?"
Emma's scowl dropped away and she nodded in approval. Axel glanced at her, then nodded at the Doctor. "That'd be fine. Nice to meet a practical biologist for once."
Rory snorted. The Doctor scowled at him.
"Come along, then," Emma said, shooing them back in front of her again, up the stairs, "I know that was scary," she said to Amy. "But the best way to get over the fright is to get right back in harness."
"Isn't that supposed to apply to horses?" Rory said, keeping a protective arm around his wife.
"Tell you what, ducks. You want to hoist a horse up here, the same rules will apply to him."
Amy burst out laughing, the last of the tension draining from her shoulders. She gave Rory a peck on the cheek. "She's got you there."
The Doctor breathed a sigh of relief to see Amy relaxing again. He turned and gave Emma a grin. She winked at him.
The Doctor and Rory climbed the spiral stairs back to the school branch. They'd managed to actually land on the walkway that rimmed the catch net this time. Rory was taking the practice with grim determination, determined to learn how to use the chutes safely. The Doctor was just larking around for fun, he already know how to use a parachute.
Rory would never admit it, but as irritating as the Doctor's whooping and showing off was, it was reassuring to have him there right alongside him. Which he figured was why the Doctor was shadowing him. Yet it was strangely even more encouraging when Rory landed neatly, and the Doctor was the one to land and almost fall backward into the net.
Amy stayed above, waiting her turn, and yelled down advice and cheered when he got something right. It hadn't taken her long to shake off her fear. Amy was never scared of anything for long.
When they got back to the training branch they found the atrium in an uproar. People were streaming down the stairways, and a regular flotilla of chutes were drifting down from the levels above.
"What's going on?" the Doctor asked. Emma just shook her head. She quickly led them back to the main platform by a shorter route, going across a solid branch bridge this time, and found Sondherson just struggling up the stairs against the flow of traffic.
"Emma! Do you have any idea what's going on? All I'm getting are garbled reports," he asked.
Emma shook her head. Amy found herself dodging tree dwellers who were running for the stairs, everyone was yelling, but no one was making any sense.
Steve, the young man who'd first found them, ran up and ran into Emma's back, he bounced off. "Sorry Emma!" He panted as he dodged around her, he saw Sondherson. "Deran! Treecat! Up on B E P 2!"
Sondherson swore. "How the hell did it get up there without us noticing?!"
Steve shrugged, looking pale. "Don't know, maybe it snuck up during the night."
Sondherson shook his head. "Nevermind. Go get Erik and his crew, tell them what's happening. Is it attacking anyone yet?"
Steve shrugged. "I don't know, I was checking the chargers and saw the Trelwins sweep by in a wave, I turned and saw it. I didn't stay to see what it was up to."
Sondherson patted him on the shoulder. "You did right. Go get Erik." The boy, which Amy realized wasn't much older than her, took off.
"Treecat?" the Doctor asked.
"One of the local predators." Deran gritted his teeth and ran his hands through his hair, eyes anxiously scanning the treetops. "It's mostly outlying residences up there. I hope they got barricaded in."
"Can we help?" Rory asked.
Deran looked down at him. "Not unless you have experience hunting big cats."
Rory shrugged. "I've taken down a lion or two in my time."
Amy gaped at him. "You never told me that!"
Rory shrugged again. "It was a long time ago."
"How dangerous are these things?" the Doctor asked, his deep eyes scanning the treetops, looking for any sign of a disturbance.
"Lethal," Deran said, "if they get into a populated area. With any luck we'll be able to knock it out of the tree before it does any harm. Then I'm going to flay whoever was supposed to be on bolewatch last night," he gritted to himself.
The Doctor and Rory shared a glance at that statement. Their cogitations were interrupted by four men charging up the stairs. They were dressed as big game hunters, camouflage fatigues and lots of pockets, and were, unbelievably, armed with spears, nets, and bolos.
"You've got to be kidding me!" Amy said. "Where are the guns?"
The lead hunter, a huge bison of a man with heavy shoulders and arms looked at her. "Guns are no good in a tree miss. You're as likely to shoot clean through your target and hit some poor innocent on the other side of the tree." He shrugged one heavy shoulder, which was draped with a large rough net. "These work just fine if you know what you're doing."
He turned and looked at Emma. "Mum, you'd make me feel a deal safer if you went below."
The heavy parachute instructor nodded. "You be careful!"
The burly hunter wrapped her in a hard hug, then released her toward the stairs. One of his men, a lean strappy fellow, was already running across the rope bridge. The area was empty, everyone had retreated below.
"I suggest you three head below as well," Sondherson said, nodding at the Doctor, Amy, and Rory. "Hole up in my office, bar the door and shutters and don't come out until one of us says it's safe."
"I'd quite like to see this Treecat," the Doctor said. He held up a hand before Sondherson could protest. "I'll keep out of the way, but you might find me useful. I have some experience in this sort of thing."
Erik spoke up. "No offense, stranger, but this is no time for flatties. Shale will get us a bead on the cat," he nodded after his scrappy comrade who had shinnied his way quickly up the tree from door archway to window frame like a Trelwin, taking the direct route. "We need to take care of it quick, We've got no time to be nursemaiding you."
Before the Doctor could protest there was a roaring snarl from above, loud enough to reverberate off the treetrunks, it was followed by a piercing scream. It sounded like a child.
"Come or go, but stay out of the way," Deran ordered, wasting no more time. He scooped up a grappling hook and rope and thundered off over the bridge after Erik.
Rory scooped up a spear and started to follow. Amy grabbed him, "Rory! You can't!" she protested. "You're scared of heights!" she pointed out, trying to find a reason why not.
Rory gave her a hard kiss. "So's he," he said, nodding at the Doctor who was already halfway across the bridge. "Somebody's got to look out for him. Emma," he turned and shoved Amy toward the larger woman, "please take care of my wife." Emma grabbed Amy before she could lunge after her husband. Amy struggled as Rory sped off, for once not looking down as he ran across the bridge. Her struggles were no match for the larger woman.
There was another roar from above and Amy blanched. Emma pulled her toward the stairs. "There's nothing you can do to help but get to safety, child. Come on. We'll wait in Deran's office. It's closest."
Amy continued to pull against Emma's grip until they hit the stairs and its endless drop. She only stopped because she didn't want to risk making them fall.
The roars above turned to snarling screams.