The struggling sheep was outlined against the yellow egg-shape of Full Saturn. Had it not been for that, Brenn would have given up and headed for home. As it was, he could see it atop the bluff over Wolfden Creek. The question now was what to do about it.
He hadn’t gone too far beyond the creek in the past, but he remembered that there was a spot where it narrowed enough to cross on the rocks. He pulled his light jacket close against the rising evening wind and walked north to find it. It was about fifty yards away, just as he remembered it, but the daily freeze-thaw cycle had broken up more and more of the dirt and the stream had begun to carve a trough in the ground.
He crossed there, taking care on the slippery rocks, since they were beginning to show the first signs of frost on their surfaces. The ground rose gradually on the far side, and he occasionally cast a glace toward the edge to make sure that he was far enough from the edge to be safe as he moved upward toward the last of his charges.
“Guffie, what are you doing up here?” he said softly as he approached the ewe. It looked as if the sheep had wandered into a soft spot on the edge of the cliff in search of a particularly attractive clump of bluegrass and its front two legs had fallen into a hole. The sheep shook a few times, bleated plaintively, and tried to pull its legs out of the hole, to no avail whatsoever.
Brenn didn’t like the looks of that at all. She was too close to the edge, by far, to be safe, and they needed the rest of their herd intact, having lost too many to Justin’s wolves already. Carefully, he moved alongside her on the side opposite the cliff edge, watching every step to keep from slipping on the damp grass. He wrapped his arms around her middle, dug his heels in and lifted.
He felt the ground give beneath the two of them before he saw anything else really happening. He released the sheep and desperately tried for a few seconds to grab something, anything, as the entire patch of ground began to slide down the side of the bluff. In just moments, the two of them had passed the edge and were on their way down towards the creek below.
Thirty feet is not a long drop on Titan, but is still far enough to be dangerous. Brenn had two seconds to calculate the result of his fall. He grabbed the sheep, which was wildly beating at the air with its hooves. In the last second, he arched his back trying to use the side of the cliff next to him to slow himself enough to get his legs under him for the landing.
It was a bad one. He felt blinding, white-hot pain in his right leg that made him sure that it was broken, probably in a couple of places. He heard the sheep’s neck crack when he fell on her because of the rocks beneath the two of them. One good thing, however, in this situation—they were on dry land.
There was a small, small bank on this side of the creek that they had fallen onto. It was just a bit over two feet wide, but dry. His leg was caught between two rocks that looked as if they had toppled from the edge above on an earlier day. Not for the first time in the last hour, Brenn realized that it was getting colder, fast. He shoved the sheep aside, into the creek, and tried to sit up, reaching for the rocks. His leg was firmly wedged between them, and he had already lost feeling in his toes. He noticed the sandy dirt below the rocks and began digging beneath the smaller one.
It was slow going. Each time that he pulled a handful of soil back, the pain would cause him nearly to black out. The bank was in the shade of the bluff, so he could only make out his progress by starlight. Finally, an hour or so after he began working, his leg was free. He began to slide his body along the side of the cliff wall—until he hit the water.
It wasn’t a full bank that he was on, but merely a ledge at the water’s edge. He was trapped on the far side of the creek with no way to get across. He shook off the encroaching cold and tried to lift himself enough to slide his phone out of his pocket to call the house. He inched it out, but by the time it had cleared his pocket, he realized that he had landed on it. It was not only crushed, which the nannies could have repaired, it was broken completely in half. Gail would have no idea where to look for him and there was no way to get in touch with her, now.
He slipped his pocketknife out of his shirt pocket and cut away the cloth around his injured leg. It was noticeably swollen and the skin was showing signs of stretching–internal bleeding, most likely. The icy wind lifted the edges of his pants leg for a moment or two. He was in a really serious position, it was obvious.
Worst of all, his body was beginning to work against him. The Titanian nights were a week long, so that he was created to sleep through them. Anytime that there was a combination of cold and dark, his liver began producing ethylene glycol and a soporific. If nothing intervened, he’d be asleep in a half hour, even with the adrenaline pouring into him from the pain. A sleep, he realized, from which it was unlikely that he was going to wake.