Join Date: Nov 2008
As if to answer his question, another salvo of the small, deadly projectiles struck the deck of the ship.
“Blowguns!” said Indiana, still trying in vain to penetrate the dark undergrowth on the shore and identify whatever it was protecting. “Someone doesn’t like us very much.” He maneuvered slowly backwards, his face and upper body pressed as tightly against the deck as was possible, as he worked his way back towards the rudder house. They were a good forty or fifty meters from the river bank; even for the nearly legendary Indians using the blowguns, it was too far for an accurate shot. Nevertheless he moved with extreme caution. He knew the tiny, pointed projectiles were covered with poison. A small scratch from one was enough to kill or cripple a man for the rest of his life.
Behind them, the door of the rudder house flew upward, and half of Henley’s mercenary troops spilled forth, storming the deck. Obviously the blowgun attack had not gone unnoticed.
“Get behind some cover!” Indiana cried. “Be careful!”
Three of the four men reacted immediately. Before Indiana had completed his warning, they ducked behind the various crates and equipment on deck and directed their weapons toward the edge of the forest. The fourth, however, acted foolishly, trying to be a hero. He stood high and dug in his heels at the railing of the steamship. He pulled his automatic rifle to his shoulder and let off three shots in quick succession. Indiana could not tell if he hit anything other than leaves and branches of the thick vegetation – but before the echo of the last shot had faded the Bush let loose a whole salvo of tiny, feathered arrows – flying through the air like a sheet - which arched over the river and fell like rain into the river and onto the small boat. Three or four rattled harmlessly on the steel railing and the deck. But one met the upper arm of the mercenary and trembled in his bicep.
The man cried out in pain, recoiling in terror and dropping the rifle as he tore out the arrow with a quick movement. The tiny wound left behind produced very little blood. Nevertheless, the man survived the injury only a few seconds longer. In an instant he stood up rigidly, looking alternatingly at he wound and the tiny finger-long arrow in his hand, and then he took half a step back and began to stagger. His face distorted in pain. He tumbled forward to his knees, and then fell forward. He was dead before the rest of his body impacted the rusty deck.
The three surviving mercenaries furiously directed their fire at the edge of the forest, and at the rear deck a door flew upward and the remaining men of Henley’s private army surged forth.
“What’s the matter?” roared Reuben, the last of the men to come out onto the deck. Henley’s response was lost in the hail of gunfire crackling thought he air, but another swarm of tiny poisoned darts flew forth from the jungle and fell like rain onto the deck, forcing Reuben and his companions to hastily duck and cover.
Indiana finally reached the rudder house and positioned himself where he could crouch to his knees and see the events unfolding as Reuben ducked nearby. Indiana had his gun drawn, but saw no use in using it. He could not hit what he could not see. The edge of the forest seemed as lifeless as ever. Whoever was attacking them, they were masters of disguise.
“Who is it?” Reuben asked in shock.
“Natives,” answered Indiana. “We are in their territory now!”
“Natives?” Reuben delivered and unaimed shot at the riverbank. “I thought they were peaceful!”
“They usually are,” answered Indiana. “I don’t know what is going on. Where is Marian?”
Reuben made a head movement toward the open door behind him. “Below deck. Don’t worry. She is okay.” For a moment his attention was diverted towards movement on the riverbank. He looked more irritated than shocked. “I don’t understand. We were assured the natives in this area were peaceful.”
As if to answer, another torrent of small deadly projectiles pierced the deck nearby. They were better targeted than before, but there was no damage because all of the men had taken immediate cover.
They were no longer firing blindly into the bush, but were waiting to see their adversary before taking a purposeful shot; however they were never met with any visible success. Reuben stared at the shore, spellbound, for several seconds as he waited to get a glimpse of the attackers. He motioned for Indiana to stay put next to the rudder house. The man behind the wheel of the steamship had huddled down in fear, although the tiny projectiles did not have enough force to pierce the window panes.
Indiana observed as Reuben spoke excitedly to the man for a few seconds, gesturing frantically. The chug of the diesel motor softened noticeably as the boat’s speed slowed.
“What are you doing?” asked Indiana stunned, as Reuben slid down next to him. “Are you mad? Why are we stopping?”
“I have to find out what’s going on,” Reuben said seriously. “I don’t understand it.”
“I don’t care,” answered Indiana. “You want to kill us?”
Reuben shook his head. “We were assured these natives were perfectly peaceful,” he said. “Although they are primitive, they are not stupid. They must know that they have no chance against us.”
At that very moment, another rain of tiny arrows fell down onto the boat. One of the tiny arrows missed the FBI agent by centimeters, and he turned visibly pale. Nevertheless he gestured to the helmsman and commanded him to continue slowing down the vessel.
“Stop firing!” he cried to his men. “Don’t fire unless you hear them shooting.”
The men looked confused, and stared disbelievingly at the FBI agent.
However, one after the other they stopped firing, and no longer did they hear any salvo of arrows issuing from the shrubs. The boat slowed continually until it stopped, remaining motionless in its place.
Indy averted his gaze back to the forest edge. He made out some movement here: something stirring there, a shadow nothing more. He closely observed the green was, scanning back and forth. Slowly one, then two, then three and four, and finally more than a dozen: small slim bronze-skinned shapes slowly emerged from the forest. Most of them were naked except for a small loin cloth, and all of them were armed with blowguns longer than they were tall.
“Aymara,” said Reuben. “It is the Aymara. I recognize their feather decorations.”
Indiana watched with confusion. Either Reuben had prepared very well for this expedition, or he was more than the insignificant FBI agent he pretended to be.
Gradually more natives stepped from the forest. Most stared attentively at the steamer floating motionless in the river, but some pointed their blowguns threatingly in their direction, and a few even waded into the water as if they were going to swim towards them.
Reuben studied the silent army – it had increased to at least fifty or sixty men – and remained motionless for several seconds, then he put his pistol back into the holster on his belt and slowly stood up.
“What are you doing?” Indiana asked frightened. “Are you crazy?”
Reuben paid no attention to him. Ever careful, he raised his empty hands up and stretched them out in front of him. Then, standing fully, he slowly made his way toward the railing of the vessel. At least a dozen blowguns followed his movements, but Reuben ignored them and continued. He also ignored Henley’s frantic gestures and the frightened calls of the mercenaries.
Indiana watched with bated breath, staring in disbelief as Reuben approached the railing; both arms lifted up and empty palms facing the shore.
“Helmsman!” Reuben instructed. “To the bank!”
The man behind the rudder hesitated, until Henley finally rose from where he had been crouched and gave him a commanding gesture. The diesel engine roared to life again. A tremor ran through the steel hull of the steamer as it seemed to resist starting the trip again. It took a moment to align the nose toward the bank, and then the ship lurched forward.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Reuben,” murmured Indiana.
Although he had spoken it softly, the FBI agent had understood his words because he nodded and replied without taking his eyes off the silent natives standing there on the riverbank. “I hope so also, Dr. Jones.” He let out a humorless laugh. “If not, I’ll be the first to know.”