A Llama Tale - Adventure's of a 12 year old girl and her llama, Moche
"Sandy! Wake up, Sandy!" It was Mom with her good morning voice. It was still night though. The stars indicated that it was around 2 am. The llamas were all packed and strung with their lead ropes. Noah was loose as always but he had a pack on too.
"Yawn........ Hi Mom. Where are we going?" It was chilly once I got away from my blanket and Moche.
"We have to leave now, Sandy." Her change in tone was enough for me. It wasn't so much a command as a request with a 'please' implied. Up, packed and I was ready in two minutes. I had been looking forward to seeing Jim the next day but that would have to wait for another time.
Grandfather smiled at me and said, "Got your compass and knife on you?" I checked and nodded yes. Grandfather seemed pleased but he was back talking to Mom again.
"Why are we leaving now?" One of the rules was not to travel at night if it could be avoided. It just seemed like we doing things in a way we hadn't done them before.
"Mom held my hands and said, "Just trust us Hon, we'll explain as we travel but we need to get started now."
We didn't go down the path to John and Beth's cabin. There was another path through the brush thicket that led to a small forest trail. Grandfather led the way with the seven pack llamas. Then I was in line with Moche who was also on his lead. Mom came behind us. She had a heavy pack on her shoulders. The two goats followed behind her. They didn't have any leads on them. I've never figured out how she got those goats to follow her so well. Noah came behind the goats. He would nudge them along if they stopped to eat along the trail. Max and Olin had also appeared again. Some how I had lost track of them at the Rendezvous. They began their routine of making alternating wide circles around our pack train as we traveled.
We walked for three hours. As we walked, Mom explained to me what was happening. The men who had killed Dad, wanted to hurt me and Moche for some reason. They had surrounded the Rendezvous area. We were going to escape so the people at the Rendezvous would not get hurt.
After some time on the trail, we stopped. From a little thicket of short trees we could see a large meadow. This was Buffalo Flats. There were three helicopters that had landed near the middle of the large grassy field and there were tents with lights scattered around the landing area.
Grandfather called me over to his side, "Sandy, these are bad fellows. They might detect us as we pass through this general area. If they do, I want you and Moche to leave us and head South-SouthEast by your compass."
"I won't leave you and Mom, Grandpa."
He said, "These men won't hurt us, they want you."
"Why me? Why would anyone want to hurt me?"
"Because of something your Dad told you. I'm not sure what it was and I don't think you know either, but I don't think that they can take that chance. They're afraid you might remember and tell someone."
"What should I do?"
Now Mom spoke to me. She was holding my shoulders, very tight, "South-SouthEast Sandy, in two days you'll come to an escarpment, a cliff, that over looks a lower forest with wooded mountains in the distance. One of the mountains has a bald top - no trees on it at all."
I knew where they wanted me to go now, "The double humped mountain with no trees is where Randy Perch lives. You want me to get Randy Perch."
Grandfather said, "Right Sandy, you tell Randy what we've told you about these men and he'll come to help me and your Mother. Remember to hold to South-SouthEast and you can't miss it."
"Can I take Moche?"
"Yes, you'll need Moche. He'll be your eyes and ears."
Mom took off her gray wool cloak and put it over me. She said to keep it on in case Moche and I had to run.
I said, "Ok, Moche and I'll be ok. Will you be ok?"
Mom smiled, "Yes, these are people I, unfortunately, already know pretty well. They won't hurt Eric or me but they'll hold us until they find you."
"But Rowdy Randy Perch will save you." If half the stories about Randy Perch were true - he'd be able to save anyone. I wasn't afraid to travel in the forest alone but I was a little bit timid about meeting Randy Perch.
Mom smiled and hugged me, "Yes - you and Randy will save us. But lets hope we can just sneak past these people and no one will need to be saved."
It all hinged on me getting to Laurel Mountain. That was the home base for Randy Perch and the Mountain Rangers.
We skirted around Buffalo Flats and were almost in the clear when some electronic device in Grandfather's pocket started to beep. He turned it off and then threw it into the forest. Then he took out another electronic device. He pulled up a small "T" shaped antenna and little green lights started to blink on and off. He put that gadget up on the limb of a tree and said to me, "Now Sandy, run."
Moche and I ran. But we ran very quietly, just like Grandfather and Mom had taught us on the way to the Rendezvous. I looked back just one time and saw the two goats running in the opposite direction. They were making more noise than a moose on a wild rampage.
Moche and I dropped down over a small ridge, crossed a stream and then scrambled up into a thicket. There was a narrow deer track through the dense brush - we followed it. Wandering around in that thorn tree forest on Grand- father's mountain had been good practice. Moche and I moved through that thicket like a couple of rabbits with a dog on their trail.
We came out on the other side and stopped. I took a compass reading. We were on course and it was just three days traveling to safety at Laurel Mountain. I wondered if Randy would tell funny stories like Jack and if they looked like each other. I thought, to myself, "this was no time to start wondering", so we started out.
Back at Buffalo Flats, Ralph Raulings was angry, "Did you get her!" The man facing Ralph spoke and acted like a military person but the light blue coveralls were not a standard issue to any government service.
The man spoke to Ralph with a calm voice that was measured with short pauses that ensured understanding, "No sir, all the men found were two goats. Each one had a mouse trap on her tail. They weren't hurt and we've brought them back to this meadow with the others." The Captain thought it was funny but he certainly wasn't going to smile in front of a Central Committee member and a Director to boot. He'd seen a lot of slick tricks in the course of three wars and a dozen lesser actions but a diversion with two goats - simple and more than effective.
"Keep looking, Captain. Take the Huey and check the quads west and north-west of here with the infrared and thermal scanners. I want that girl as soon as possible!"
"Sir, their vector from the Rendezvous site would have been SouthEast or South - SouthEast. This man is too clever to have wandered this way by mistake."
"West and North West, Captain. That's a twelve year old girl and there's nothing for a hundred miles to the SouthEast."
"Sir, maybe as far as we know but perhaps there are more resources available to these people, in this wilderness, than our intelligence has indicated."
"West and North West, Captain!"
Captain O'Dell left with the same calm that he spoke with. Ralph sat down in his chair and thought about how this whole mess had started. He had tried to recruit David Stanford to the inner circle of the Foundation. David was one of the finest minds that Ralph had ever encountered. The Foundation would need a cipher/code expert very soon and David was the best. The problem was that he refused. He wouldn't be a part of any ultra-conservative movement especially one with secret memberships. On top of that, after he knew the Foundation existed, he broke the Foundation's Central Standard Code that was used for world wide communications by the group. One of David's staff members that operated the Cray Computer was a Foundation member and reported the breech of security to Ralph. The Central Committee was in panic when they heard that their code was broken and several members, without authorization, had David killed. One of the brightest minds in the world and they had him killed, just like a bunch of gangsters in an old movie.
Ralph Raulings stood up and walked out of his command center tent. He went over to where Eric and Dawn had made their camp. It was by the largest helicopter. All the llamas were sitting in a circle around them, placidly chewing their cud. Ralph had the two dogs tied to the skids of the helicopter. They had offered no problems to his men but the dogs were so large that it seemed prudent not to take any chances.
"Dawn, Eric - It's extremely important that I have your cooperation in finding Sandy."
Mom spoke, "I just can't believe that you had anything to do with David's death - his murder - Ralph! Aren't you ashamed of yourself. He was your friend. We were your friends. Who are you? You're not the Ralph Raulings that I knew and trusted. You killed David." Her voice was calm, she had already accepted my Dad's death but finding Ralph Raulings was the leader was a shock of some sort.
Ralph shrugged, "I didn't have anything to do with that action. The people that were responsible have been tried by the Foundation and they were punished as criminals. We have very high standards of conduct. David's death was a great loss to our future plans."
Grandfather said, "Not the Foundation for Liberty, that old renegade, right wing, underground that's going to save America from herself. Is that what this is all about?"
Ralph looked at Grandfather, "Yes, we call ourselves the Foundation now but in your day it was called the Foundation for Liberty. The danger for our homeland is even greater today than it was in those times."
Grandfather was disgusted, "Danger. Did you ever consider that democracy just might work a little better if you extreme right wing groups would let it function without subversion and interference. Your group has perverted most of the help and aid programs to the third world for the last forty years."
"All for the good of America and we've been doing it for over seventy years now." Ralph sat down in one of the chairs that had been left by the helicopter. Mom and Grandfather were sitting on the ground like we always did in camp.
Mom said in that calm cutting voice I get when she knows I did the wrong thing on purpose, "Your America Ralph, not ours or the America of the great majority of people who live in this country." She paused and softened her voice a bit, "Tell us what happened to Dave."
Ralph went into a narrative that was mostly true. Dad and Mom were translators for the data gathering arm of a government intelligence agency. Like my Grandfather and Grandmother their specialty was language and each could speak and write almost twenty different languages. My Dad worked with complex telecommunication codes. He would use high speed computers to break codes utilized by different governments and translate them into their original languages. No one else was as good at that as he was.
Because of my Dad's background and ability, Ralph thought that he would make an excellent recruit for the Foundation's Central Governing Committee. Dad had refused and had told Ralph that for better or worse, open democracy is still the great strength of our republic.
Ralph had accepted and respected Dad's feelings. Ralph told my Mom and Grandfather that he had hoped my Dad would eventually change his mind. However, once Dad knew the Foundation existed, he identified a complex communication network that was used by the Foundation for world wide communications. He found it and broke their secret code. Some men in the Foundation found out about it and they murdered my Father without permission from their superiors. But before they found and killed him, my Dad had told the key for the code to me. Only I didn't know what he had told me.
Ralph continued, "Actually, most of the security committee members in that agency are members of the Foundation. Most other sources he could have reported to are also Foundation members. There was no reason to destroy such a brilliant mind and fine person. Even if he didn't agree with us right now, I'm sure he would have. You must believe me, his death was a great personal loss to me. We're not barbarians, just patriots."
Grandfather smiled a sad smile, "No Ralph, the word isn't patriot, it's fascist. Regardless of the best intentions, noblest goals or patriotic theme, the rule of many by a few is called fascism. But I won't argue with you and I believe your grief for my son is sincere. What do you intend to do with Sandy?"
Ralph folded his hands in his lap and frowned. "There are quite a few central committee members who didn't condone David's murder but who feel we should kill Sandy. It'll take about five years for us to get a back-up communication network in place and cover our tracks on the current one. It would be disastrous for the Foundation if the communication system that Dave told Sandy about is identified before the replacement is ready. We know that Sandy was told because your home conversations were monitored from the time I first approached David regarding my desire to sponsor his membership in the Foundation."
Grandfather nodded grimly, "But you have an alternate plan that would save Sandy's life?"
Ralph smiled, this conversation was going the way he intended from the beginning, or at least, he thought it was. "Yes, we have a new drug, I believe Dawn is familiar with it from some aspects of her work. It's a neural synapse antagonist that targets very specific areas of the brain. It's well tested, highly effective and there are no unpleasant side affects or long term damage to the brain."
Grandfather asked, "So what does this wonder drug do?"
Mom said bitterly, "It permanently eliminates long term historical memory from the brain but leaves the person with their functional memory: language, skills and what ever. It targets long term memory neurons with a monoclonal antibody to specific surface receptors that are unique to those brain cells. The antibody targets the brain cells for destruction by the body's own defense mechanism. He's right when he says it's well tested and seems to be safe. I translated quite a few Soviet papers on it's use for traumatic shock patients."
Ralph said, "My plan is to use this drug on Sandy. The drug's action is documented well enough that the procedure will be accepted by the Central Committee and it'll take care of this whole mess, once and for all. That's why I need your cooperation. If I fail, there are others who will come with the other solution."
Mom stood up now and started pacing, "No Ralph, all her childhood memories, her memory of David, no that's not fair to her."
Ralph was standing now also, "Dawn, think of it like an accident. She'd be in no danger after we administer the drug. She could have a normal life and you could go back to the Agency and your work. I can guarantee a very large stipend for your cooperation. If Sandy is half as gifted as you and David, she'll adapt very quickly."
Mom stopped and faced Ralph, "No Ralph! We'll take our chances. I know, in your own way, that you have the best intentions but we'll stay who we are. I'm afraid you're an honorable man who has picked the wrong side. You're going to loose. You're going to loose this issue with Sandy and in the end your precious Foundation will loose its identity and purpose." Mom's voice softened then, just a little, and she touched his arm. She never told anyone if she meant her next statement or if it was a ploy to keep Ralph in a pleasant mood so he would continue to update her and Grandfather on their search for me and Moche.
"I still appreciate your intentions to help us."
Grandfather's eyes just twinkled a little as he watched.
Ralph started to walk away, "If I can make you comfortable in any way during the search, please let me know. Eric, I'm afraid I would have known your reputation even without knowing David. The six guards are out of respect for you, Sir. They will shoot to kill you, Dawn and the animals if you initiate any conflict. The three helicopters have been intentionally disabled while they're on the ground, though I can't imagine you leaving these gentle animals behind for that fate. I'll keep you both posted on our progress but without any ill intentions toward your feelings for Sandy."
Ralph returned to his office in the communication tent. He had fifty-six well trained men, the best equipment in the world and he couldn't find a twelve year old girl. They had found Eric's jamming device soon after his men had closed in on the old man and Dawn in the forest. It was an extremely complex instrument with thirty separate oscillating frequencies, made from simple radio shop parts. His technicians were fascinated at the blend of simplicity and sophistication. The Huey had just called in to say that there was no sign of the girl in their last sweep of the forest.
Ralph took two pills for his headache and continued to review the situation in his mind. Last night, two teams on foot and the light helicopter thought they had her. They had tracked a single person and nine llamas through the forest. The search took them to the base of a large cliff at the foot of a mountain. There they had vanished. Sixteen men combed that area all day today. No cave, no tracks - just an old black felt hat was found on a small pine tree. The hat had a happy face painted on the crown and stick figures for nine llamas and a person on the brim.
Ralph sat back in his chair and studied the area map. She had to be West or NorthWest - but where. To himself he was saying, "Where is that kid?" - when -
"What!!! Get those goats out of here!!!"
If there was anything in the next five days that caused havoc for Ralph Raulings, it was those two milking goats. The llamas would stay near Eric and Dawn, at all times. They were loose and would graze or sit peacefully near their camp that was in the shade of the largest transport helicopter. The two dogs might stand and stretch every so often but they were no apparent threat. In all their packs and gear, Eric and Dawn only had two knives and an odd spear that was carried in two pieces. A spear, of all things, right in the heartland of America. Those goats though, they'd go to Eric and Dawn to be milked at sunrise and dusk but the rest of the time they were into everything. In the tents, in the helicopters, knocking equipment over and just being pests. They had tried to tie them with every kind of rope that they had but it was no use - they'd chew their way free every time. Ralph would have had them shot if it wasn't for Eric and Dawn. This was a trying enough situation without compounding it with the senseless slaughter of two goats. Ralph kept thinking, "Where is that girl?"
That girl was standing on the top of a cliff at the end of the second day. This was the escarpment that Mom and Grandfather had told me about. Twelve-hundred feet down, there was another forest. It was greener and off in the distance I could just see the wooded hills where I would find Laurel Mountain. I could almost make out one hill with two humps like a camel but right now my problem was to find a way down this steep cliff. It looked like a long way down.
"This is it Moche. How are we going to get down there?"
Grandfather had told me the path down to the lower forest was ten degrees on the compass south of the double peaks of Laurel Mountain and five degrees north of a small domed hill by the river that ran through the lower forest. If I was right about the one distant slope being Laurel Mountain then the path down the cliff was somewhere to my right. I made a mental note that the next time I have an adventure, I'm going to take Grandfather's old brass telescope with me.
We found the path without any problem and then made it down to the floor of the lower forest pretty fast. There were several sheltered ledges along the trail down the cliff. Any one of them would have made nice camps for the night. They had pine trees and small pools of water. We were in a hurry so we kept going. We hiked out into the lower forest until the night got really dark. It was quite a bit warmer down here. The night sounds were slightly different as the wind moved through the trees. Different trees have different wind sounds, I thought. How about that, there's something I learned on my own. I didn't make a fire. I hadn't the night before, either. Moche wandered about the small clearing that we were in, nibbling here and there on pine needles and dry leaves. I had some roots that I had picked up during the day, but I wasn't hungry. There's food everywhere in the forest, once you know where to look. The soft moonlight and stars felt just like home. I went right to sleep. Tomorrow we had to get to Laurel Mountain for help.
We were up and traveling before sunrise. I had taken a good compass reading on what I thought was Laurel Mountain and we followed that heading through the forest.
By noon, we had come to the area of low rounded hills. I couldn't see the tops of the hills through the trees and there was no smoke but I smelled people. It's not a bad odor or a good one; it's just something you notice when you've been in the deep woods for awhile and you come to any settlement.
Moche and I dropped off the paths at this point and traveled parallel to them but I kept an eye on my compass heading too. Finally, it was apparent that all the paths that crossed were all headed in the same general direction. Moche and I made a wide circle and moved through a dense thicket. As we came to the far end of the thicket we stopped. While we were still hidden by the dense little trees, I studied what we could see. There was a large meadow. At the far end was the foot of a high cliff, with a large opening to a cave. There were people near the entrance and in the rock, above the entrance, was a carved arch with the figures of two trees on either side and the words: LAUREL MOUNTAIN.
"We're here Moche, but what do we do now?"
Meanwhile, just inside the entrance to Laurel Mountain, two men were viewing the screen displays of the spectrographic and thermal scanners which monitored all approaches to this entrance for a half mile. One man was very tall, with broad shoulders and a long black beard. The smaller man was saying, "They've been there for about five minutes now, Randy. The scanner indicates that it's a child or a small adult and the other figure matches the pattern for a llama. The message from the Harringtons mentioned Eric was coming with Dawn and her daughter. Do you think the party might have been separated for some reason?"
Randy looked at the screen. He knew that there had been some trouble connected to Dave's death and Dawn had basically fled home to the mountains. He wouldn't have been surprised at all to see Eric Stanford materialize inside three separate rings of sensors but a child was another thing. "None of the sentries or motion scanners in the outer rings reported them on the main paths?"
"No sir. They must have circled the central path convergence but even then they'd have to be pretty good to get this far without detection. Should I send a team out to flank them?" It wasn't hard to flank the approaches since the lower levels of the cave actually spread out under them. There were multiple entrances hidden in the forest floor.
"No, lets just wait and watch awhile. Hand me that chair."
Randy Perch was six foot six inches tall and weighed two hundred and seventy-five pounds. He had to admit these days that he did have a bit of a pot belly but 95% of that weight was still muscle. He took the chair outside and sat down in the sunshine, leaning back against the rocky arch.
Randy was the leader at Laurel Mountain, partly by birthright, partly by size but mostly because he was an educated, intelligent man who preferred peace-&-quiet to action, science to ignorance and law to anarchy. People liked and respected him. He considered himself a co-chairperson with many others in a small society that governed by committees. Right now he had a feeling that there had been some trouble. If this was Dawn's daughter, it was likely that she was very frightened. He had sent his brother and sister-in-law, Jack and Annie Perch, to see Eric as soon news of David's death and Dawn's flight had become known to him. If he knew Jack, he would have prepared the young girl for a flight to Laurel Mountain with . descriptive stories. His hope, right now, was that a very frightened little girl might recognize him from Jack's stories and come forward for help. That seemed a better plan than trying to run her down with twenty men. Especially considering the fact that she avoided detection through three rings of sentries and sensors. But he thought, if she's been traveling with Eric Stanford maybe it's not all that surprising.
He sat back and enjoyed the sunshine. If getting older did anything, it allows you to enjoy brief moments, he thought.
"What should we do, Moche?" I just couldn't decide. This was Laurel Mountain, so I was safe. The man by the doorway was very big. Bigger than Jack. That was it, bigger than Jack, with a long black beard. The man at the doorway was Rowdy Randy, Jack's brother.
We pushed through the end of the thicket and walked out into the meadow. The man saw us coming, but he didn't move, he was leaning back against the stone arch in his chair. Moche and I walked up to him and I said, "Hello."
The big man seemed to be day dreaming but he turned his head to look at us. His eyes were very kind looking. He raised his eyebrows, like he was surprised, and said in a nice voice, "It's a little early in the year for elves to be coming down off the high meadows?"
"I'm not an elf, I'm Sandy and this is Moche - he's a llama and my friend."
"Oh! If he's a llama then you've probably come from my good friend Eric Stanford. How is Eric?"
"Yes, he's my Grandfather and they're in trouble with bad men of some sort." I started to cry.
The man stood up and came over to me and Moche. He knelt down and said, "Easy there now little lady, this is a safe place. Take my hand and we'll go talk this over with some folks. Would you like some milk and cookies."
"Are you Randy, Randy Perch?"
"Yes, that's me. Come now, we'll get you and your friend something to eat. There's a lot of people here at Laurel Mountain, but they're all friends of your Mom and Eric."
We walked into the cave. It was a very large cavern. The whole mountain seemed to be hollow, with a city built inside. Randy took my hand and we talked about Grandfather and Mom as we walked.
"So there were three helicopters at Buffalo Flats but you didn't see any of the men?"
"No, Grandfather said to run here for help."
"How long did it take you?"
"This is the third day, we ran most of the way."
He smiled, "At your age I guess you could. You don't know who the bad men are?"
"Yes and No." I told Randy what I knew and how Grandfather said that he and Mom would be ok until Randy got there. We walked along the outer wall of the cavern. Then we passed through a doorway into an office area that had computers, typewriters and electric lights.
"You have electricity. Are we near a town or city."
"No, this is a booster station for the central transcontinental power grid. From here the power grid goes through the Divide and then there's another station in the Cascade Range."
"You work for the power company?"
Randy smiled, "No, we lease our services and the use of our facilities to the power companies. There are four ways to move electrical power: over a mountain, through a mountain, around a mountain and our way - which I might say with all modesty is cheaper and more efficient."
"Where are the power lines?"
"Everything is underground. Have some milk. There are cookies around here some place. There they are."
I told my story to Randy and then all over again to several men and ladies that he called on the telephone. They were very nice but we went over the whole story from the Rendezvous to my getting to Laurel Mountain, several times. Then they told the story back to me.
"Yes, that's it - I don't think you've left anything out."
They had each repeated part of the story but in a patient way that allowed me to speak and correct them at one point or another.
"How did you find the trail that leads down the escarpment?" This was a nice older lady who must have been someone's grandmother.
"I took two compass readings to triangulate my position and then I knew which direction along the cliff to look."
"You came the whole distance on compass readings?" This was a man in leather clothes. He was short and thin but had bright friendly eyes.
"Yes, Mom and Grandfather told me South SouthEast. I took my final heading from partway down the cliff on a ledge. I could see the two humps of Laurel Mountain from there."
A younger lady, with blond hair, said, "Smart girl, were you scared in the forest at night?"
"A little Miss but I've learned many of the forest sounds. When you know who or what the sounds are there is not so much to be afraid of. Besides, I was worried about Mom and Grandfather."
Randy spoke now, "Well Sandy, why don't you get some sleep and we'll leave in the morning."
"I'll go too!"
"Yes, if you're a Stanford, I know there'll be no stopping you anyhow." Randy smiled, he only had one front tooth and looked like a pirate.
"Can I sleep with Moche?"
"Yes honey, we'll go see him right now." The nice older lady and I left the room. I took some cookies with me. They tasted good considering we'd been eating bread, honey and vegetables for a few months.
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