Startled, Skylar and Jenna jerked and turned to look at the opposite bank of the river. They heard more shouts as some of their group came into view. Skylar stood and shouted back, waving his arms.
Wading through the thigh-deep water, Glen was the first to join them at their fire. His face lined with concern, he asked, "Are you both okay?"
Skylar and Jenna looked at each other then Skylar, turning back to Glen replied, "We're both fine."
Glen said, "We need to get back up-river. Charles stayed with the packs and horses." Glancing around, he saw the dead cougar and his tone of voice changed, reflecting his surprise. "Was that the cougar which was following us?"
Skylar nodded, "I think so. I'm afraid I had to kill it. Is it a large specimen?"
Glen returned his attention to the two at the fire. "Very large. Are you sure you're all right? No injuries?"
Jenna answered, "Not from the cougar." She gestured toward her leg. "My leg is really sore though, I must have hit something in the water."
Glen knelt, examining the wound which now looked like it had been only a very bad scrape. "It looks like you'll be okay. Does it hurt much to walk on it?"
"Some," Jenna said. "I don't think I could run too fast, but I suppose I'll live."
Glen remained silent, looking hard into her face for a few moments, then finally he stood. He walked over to Skylar and looked him over, pointed at the torn and bloody sleeve and asked, "What about your arm?"
Skylar said, "It’s scraped and bruised, but I'll be fine."
Glen nodded. "That's good." Turning to the others who had crossed the river to join them, he directed, "Let's get this fire out and get on our way. We want to get back to Charles before too long, and we have quite a walk."
Rory and Glen extinguished the fire. Mike spent his time examining the dead and stiffening cat. He looked up at Skylar with a thoughtful face before moving to join them at the river’s edge.
They waded back across and began moving up the embankment toward the temporary camp Charles had established.
Mike hurried to catch up to where Skylar was walking with Jenna. He opened his mouth, then glanced at Jenna and shut it. He looked at Skylar once more, opened his mouth again, then thought the better of it and closed it. He rolled one shoulder expressively, shooting another glance in Skylar’s direction.
Skylar watched him and could see the tussle going on between curiosity and caution written on his face.
Curiosity won. With another sideways look at Skylar, Mike softly commented, "I see you got yourself a kitty. What'd you hit him with, a club?"
Equally quietly, Skylar said, "I shot him." He looked at Mike's shocked and disbelieving face and grinned.
Mike snorted. "With a wet pistol," he said, "Right!"
Skylar's smile widened. "Special equipment... "
Mike cut in, a bit of frustration showing. "Let me guess...it's experimental and you're not allowed to talk about it. Are you in the air force or something?"
His tone demanded more information than Skylar was willing—or able—to give. Skylar appreciated the other's plight, yet couldn't help but see the humor in the circumstances.
Skylar choked back his laughter. "Or something," he agreed and began to walk a bit faster, leaving Jenna and Mike behind.
Mike hurried after Skylar and snatched at his arm, stopping him in place as he turned Skylar to face him. Skylar's pained grimace made Mike let go immediately, but his voice was serious, questioning and challenging.
"Skylar, that cougar's dead and there's not a mark on him! What on earth did you use to kill him?"
Jenna caught up with the two men blocking the narrow trail just then and stopped. Skylar was aware of her presence, but didn’t acknowledge her. So far, she had teased him every chance she had and he was sure she would heap more fuel on Mike’s fire of suspicion if he gave her half a chance.
Skylar briefly considered the offhand remark he could make in answer to the "on earth" part of Mike’s question, but knew it wouldn’t dissuade Mike from his questioning.
Skylar placed a hand on Mike's shoulder, facing him squarely, and with a serious tone which told Mike not to push too far, replied, "Let's just call it space-age technology and leave it at that, all right?"
A small sound escaped Jenna’s throat that sounded suspiciously derisive, but Skylar didn’t dare look at her. If her face held one of her saucy grins, he was afraid he would break out in laughter, which would only serve to aggravate Mike further. He wondered again if Mike’s curiosity had been the reason Rantek had planned this trip.
Mike held Skylar’s gaze for a long, silent moment, then accepted defeat; he stepped around Skylar and stalked off along the trail, muttering something about ‘never getting a straight answer’ from anyone.
Skylar turned and followed Mike up the path, doing his best to ignore Jenna’s muttered comment, “Space-age technology, huh?” that floated softly to his ears as she followed him down the path.