The snow kept falling.
The clear-sky thing hadn’t lasted for more than a few hours; now the sun struggled to be seen through thick layers of cloud cover, and the flakes fell and fell and fell.
It was similar enough to snow from home to make them want to make snow-men and snow-angels and snow-forts. They declared a holiday, and the entire town went out and played.
By the third day of snowfall, they had Aoife out trying to get answers from the sleeping trees. When that didn’t work, they sent the scientists out to pull samples.
By five days, they were making snow forts again. Not so much for fun, this time, as for shelter. Their roofs weren’t built to handle the weight; their structures weren’t built for the winds that were coming in.
They started on the windward side, forming bricks out of packed snow. “I read a documentary about this, once.” Surprisingly, it was Tarval who came up with the idea. “If we do this right, we can even make roofs.”
The snow walls kept the worst of the drifting off of their shelters. That gave them time to rig something for their roofs.
And that was a week into the snowfall, and it was still coming. Tarval had stopped swearing at it. H was the only one; everyone else had started. The gen-mod horses were starting to snort at it, even.
And still the snow kept falling.
“I thought this was supposed to be brief.”
“Trees have a different sense of brief than we do?” Aoife shrugged. “I don’t have training in xenobotanical ambassadorial duties.”
They were beginning to get really worried. They could handle the cold for another week or two with the deadwood they’d gathered, and they could – and did – send out teams to gather more fuel from the sheltered areas of the forest.
That took care of warmth, for maybe – they estimated – a month of really hard fall. The wall took care of the bad wind, and Tarval managed to rig a tent-dome over the settlement with the last of their tarps, which took the last of the snow weight off the roofs. (It looked, from the outside, like a giant igloo, so said the salvage-and-scrounge teams going into the woods).
Food was going to be a problem. There wasn’t any meat around, and they hadn’t prepared enough in advance for this winter.
“What we need is a bunch of mythical Thanksgiving Indians.” Tarval, as much as he’d been fighting the whole idea of snow was in his element now that it was here. “With turkey.”
“Not going to happen, I’m afraid.” Aoife was helping Tarval patch their dome and fix some of the rigging underneath to make it more, well, dome-like. “The trees had never seen humans before, or sentience of any sort except the plants.”
“These trees, here. They could be anywhere else on this place.”
“Probably won’t be travelling in this, then. Unless they have the most well-hidden high-technological civilization ever. No, we’re going to have to find something to eat, or we’re going to have to accept losses.”
“How can you be so damn cold about this?”
“Because this isn’t my first rodeo, and if I flip out, someone else will flip out, and then someone else, and before we know it, everyone’s spazzing.”
“I don’t want to accept losses. We need to find a way. Damnit. There has to be something.”
“Cat!” The shout at the gate was something else: a bellow, more than a crier-call, a panicked bellow.
Tarval and Aoife started running. “Cat” could be anything, around here.
Young Soni was standing in the gate tower, staring over the wall. By the time Tarval and Aoife got there, she was shaking. “Cat.” She pointed a trembling arm out over the wall.
“Cat, indeed.” Aoife’s voice was reverent. Tarval didn’t blame her. “You wanted Indians, Tar.”
“…Yeah.” Sitting outside the gate was a mammalian-looking creature the size of an elephant. Its – call it a mane, why not – was feathery, sticking out in wild colors from its grey pelt.
Two more, with less vivid colors, sat nearby, watching. And in every single one’s mouth was a large, freshly-dead-looking animal.
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