“There you go” gloated Sebastian. “Afghanistan. British military experience: it always counts in the end.” He cast a superior look at Bertie as he doled out the half dozen brown cucumber things he had found to the others.
He was still glowering about Henry, but had fended off the many questions of the others regardless, saying that he was scouting ahead.
Smith had said that these martian canals generally had a swath of fertile land for some miles either side: these areas were the basis of martian agriculture, where they were cultivated. According to what that Bounder Henry had said before sneaking off, he’d estimated that if they made decent progress today, regardless of the effort, they might actually reach such an area – and who knows, maybe a farm or camp?
With spirits risen slightly now they staggered on, and they noticed that the clumps of plants were becoming slightly more frequent: at least he hoped it was so. There was another development also.
“It is definately a rider” said Marko, lowering his spyglass. “Keeping distance perhaps, but no longer trying to hide completely.” It appeared that the rider was shadowing them at a distance. Marko passed his glass to Sebastian.
Adjusting the glass Sebastian could definately see the riding lizard – an ugly brute, though definately accoutred with saddles and other furniture. On this sat his first glimpse of an actual martian. At this distance human like and with long hair. He had heard that the martian complexion was somewhat ochre – like, but in this case seemed more like heavily tanned.
The general appearance reminded him somewhat of photographs he had seen of American indians, and he guessed that this was one of the Steppe Nomads rather than one of the more civilised Canal Martians.
As the rider came into slightly closer view – still maintaining a good distance he realised with a shock that the figure was actually female!
“Good Heavens!” he thought. “It’s a Gel !!” He took in the bare arms and thighs, and muttered to himself. He kept looking however.
The rider was armed, with a rifle or musket perhaps slung over one shoulder, and appeared to carry knives and other weapons. Occasionally the rider glanced in their direction, and he caught a glimpse of an elfin face and those strange pointed and ridged martian ears.
And then he caught the sound of gunfire ahead of them. The rider looked round, and then spurred forward and disappeared over a fold in the land. Minutes later she appeared again, and this time rode straight towards them.