Garis had been abandoned over a century before because the world never took to terraforming. Even the sheep meant to feed this world and a few others had died off. The humans left, moving to a new settlement and better conditions. For a scavenger like Jared, Garis represented a possible windfall. He'd done the studies; the settlers had been well funded, but when the world failed, they'd cleared out everything they could carry but left the infrastructure behind.
Garis Prime hung below him, a world of brown and grey with splotches of green like a mold on bread. Those spots represented locations where any kind of terraforming had taken, and where the settlements had been located.
Other scavengers had been in before him, and taken anything even remotely tech. He wanted the metal, though, which they had brought in with the first settlers. Saryntine was hungry for metal and paid top credits. For a smalltime scavenger like Jarad, this could be big money.
The main city was probably stripped clean, but it had the port, which was still intact, though silent. He'd put down there, take the sled out to the nearest smaller settlement, and see what he could find.
Two days later he was in a small no-name town cutting away pipe when he heard something odd.
Wind, he told himself. Not a howl. He had stopped working, his breath catching and his hands starting to shake. He always got this way on world. He preferred the ship, alone -- at least since is partner died. He'd been lucky to survive that accident. Robis had always been so damned careless no matter how many times Jared had lectured him. He knew it in the end. "Find a partner you can trust," had been Robis's last words.
Not the time to think about it. He cut some more.
The howl came again. The reports hadn't said anything about indigenous animals. Damn. He looked at the pipe he'd been cutting -- half way done and this was the last one for today. He turned the laser cutter back on and went back to work. Quick and easy work. Then drag it to the sled --
The pipe fell with a loud bang, a bit of sludge dropping out the end. He'd hoped for clean stuff, but wasn't surprised. Jared started down the ladder, anxious to be on the sled and head back to the city. The sun was going down.
As he reached for the pipe, he heard movement and spun. Something moved. Not a human. He heard four feet and claws and then saw eyes flashing in the faint light. Jared had the laser cutter in hand, which would work as a weapon if the thing came closer. It shied back when he flashed it on, the light bright.
He saw what was there. It took him a moment to put a name to it because he couldn't really believe something like that lived out here on a deserted world. He'd seen the picture from Earth.
Big dog, too. He could hear another not far away. The original dogs must have been abandoned when everyone left. Damned strange thing to leave behind. Dangerous now.
He inched his way backwards, glancing at the pipe and deciding it could wait until tomorrow. Get back to the ship and find a way to protect himself.
The dogs followed him, the sounds of growls at his back. He had a laser pistol on the sled, but he hadn't take it with him when he knew the world was abandoned. How the hell had dogs --
Sheep. They'd had sheep, and he remembered dogs were used to herd sheep on earth. The settlers must have abandoned them since they would have been limited in what they could take off world. These were feral now, several generations later. What did they eat? Each other?
If he'd had a partner, they could have still worked, one of them guarding. If Robis hadn't --
One of the dogs howled and leapt at him, catching his ankle before he could swing the cutter around and kill it. He got a second one, but more were coming. His leg bled and hurt like hell -- he didn't know a bite could be so powerful. He feared he couldn't walk very far, but the sled was only a few yards away around the corner of the building. He couldn't have parked it any closer with the walls so tight. Just a little farther. Another few steps. He had a first aide kit on the sled. He'd be fine.
Then he saw a dog and something smaller rushing at him from beside the sled. He gave a cry of fear, bringing up the cutter to take a swipe, but the larger creature veered past him and leapt at the dog that had charged in from behind. The two collided with vicious growls and howls. Another rushed in and grabbed the one who had leapt to help him. He killed it. And another, while the last two rolled around on the ground, blood spraying.
Then the littler creature rushed forward, yapping. A puppy, and he suspected the little thing was going to try and help his mother. Jared grabbed him and the little thing wiggled and yipped -- and didn't bite him.
It was too late to save the mother, but she took the other one with her. In a moment they were both dead, wounds torn open, but the bleeding slowed and stopped. No life left.
He still held the puppy, a shaggy-haired little thing. It whined. He started to put it down, but another dog howled not far away.
The puppy wouldn't survive.
He couldn't say why he took the puppy back with him to the ship. Why he fed the little thing. Why he felt better having him there. Then he remembered Robis's last words again. Find someone you can trust for a partner. He thought maybe he had.