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VC: "Rattlesnake"
Jason — 3 Sep 1999, 9:29 PM

(This addition to the Equinox saga probably makes more sense if you take the second version of "A Good Defenc[s]e..." as the authoritative version of the events in that story.)

After the crisis (and the mud) and cleared, Rudy once again called his hands together to discuss their continuing attempts to get to a safe harbour.

"We must be close," Noah said.

"We've been close for the past two months." Max said.

"I know we're close." Ransom said confidently. "Which brings me to the next order of business." Rudy said. "Months ago, we set out on the mission of cataloging zoological phenomena. I have no intention of returning home without fulfilling our task."

His hands listened, taken by surprise by Rudy's new agenda.

"From this point on, we'll spend less time on maintaining the Equinox, and more time on studying the plants and wildlife we encounter on our journey."

His crew considered this, but they all had the same thought: they all wondered what prompted Rudy's sudden change of heart.

It was Max who spoke up first. "Rudy... do you think that's such a good idea? We've already been out here months. Everyone will understand if we don't come back with as much information as we originally intended, given the circumstances."

Ransom nodded. "True, but the Equinox is no longer in as much danger as it once was. Look at the caravan. We have food, supplies, and it's intact. That's saying much more than we could a few months ago."

"That the heavens are actively trying to stomp us out of existence notwithstanding, of course." Doc Savage added curtly.

"Defense of the Equinox will of course remain our top priority. But we shouldn't try to adapt the caravan any further to suit our needs. Not at the expense of our original mission." Rudy said.

"Rudy," Marla said. "We've constructed the first horse-less carriage. That's enough innovation to make even the most skeptical support what we've achieved out here."

"Achieved?" snapped Ransom. "But at what cost?"

Marla stood coldly, snapped into place by Ransom's decision to turn this on her.

"Do you think that they will approve of what we're doing out here once they find out? How will we ever explain the adaptions we've made to the Equinox? There's no doubt-before we ever get back to civilization, the Equinox will be taken apart, piece by piece, if necessary to make sure this never happens again."

His crew stood, faces down, looking as if their father had just scolded them.

"To that end," Ransom continued. "I want to study these Sky Spirits... the way we *originally * intended."

His crew snapped out of their funk, perhaps the fear of the creatures made them think twice about Ransom's new proposal.

"We've seen these creatures only emerge from the sky. Yet there's nothing in nature that can explain it. Well there has to be something... some connection... whether scientific or spiritual. Some way that they came here in the first place. Or perhaps they originate here, after all. Who knows what those... things... they come through are. They seem supernatural, but what if they aren't? We know already that there are creatures that are able to blend into their environment at will. Perhaps they live in the sky somehow, and have developed some sort of... camouflage... through evolution?" Rudy posited.

"I want the answers to these questions. To that end, I want to find out if these creatures DO exist in nature. Study zoological any catalogs we have in our collection. I also want to look in literature, see if there are any connections between these creatures and references or allusions to them in literature." Rudy continued.

"I'll just get my library card ready," Max deadpanned. "Next time you run into her, Marla, you might want to ask where the Antelope Woman checks out her books."

VC: "Rattlesnake"
Jason — 3 Sep 1999, 9:30 PM

Again, the leather called out to her but before it could say anything audible Rudy jumped in.

"Enough! We have a caravan full of scientific equipment and texts. I'm telling you to consult them." He said. "Doctor, analyze the skin samples of the Sky Spirits. Compare them to any species we are familiar with from this region. See if there are any common evolutionary traits."

"But I've done that already-" the Doc started.

"Do it again!" Ransom said harshly. Then, to the rest of his crew, he said simply "Now."

Quietly, his crew broke apart to carry out their orders. Max stayed behind.

"You were awfully quiet back there," Rudy said.

"You didn't give us much opportunity to speak," Max said. "But aside from that, I didn't want the rest to hear what I had to say."

"What's that, Burke?"

"Your new agenda-- sir, with all due respect I think that's a waste of our resources. We should be concerned with getting out of here, not studying the local wildlife. No less wildlife whose sole goal is seemingly our complete annihilation. I think by doing this, we're running a terrible risk." Max said.

"I appreciate your concerns but at this point I feel they are unwarranted," Rudy said. "I think we should be trying to engage these creatures, not attack them. We may yet be able to work together." Ransom said.

"I think that option strains plausibility," Max said.

Rudy was silent for awhile. He turned away from Max and when he finally turned back he said, "I was told a parable when I was young and I never forgot it."

Max listened.

Rudy cleared his throat and continued.

"One day, a rattlesnake was passing by the shore. Eventually, he came upon a field mouse, who was looking across the river, wanting to get across. Before the mouse could run, the snake was right beside him. The mouse was startled at first, because instead of being eaten up as he expected, the snake just slithered beside him and watched what the mouse watched.

'I don't understand,' the mouse asked the snake. 'Why haven't you eaten me?'

The Snake replied that he was a pacifist snake and didn't approve of the vicious meat-consuming ways of the other snakes. The snake and the mouse, after talking awhile, put aside their natural conflicts and became fast friends.

Finally, the snake asked the mouse, 'Why are you looking across the river?'

The mouse responded 'Simple, I want to get to the other side. But I have no way to get there.'

After a moment, the snake responded that he could help the mouse. 'I could swim you to the other side of the river, and let you off the other side.' The mouse was touched that the snake would do this for him, but he was nonetheless concerned.

'But I have no claws of my own, and your skin is too scaly and smooth to hold on to. How would I stay on you? I'd be washed away with the waves.' The mouse pointed out.

After considering it, the snake said 'You could come inside my mouth. I would be able to take you across without getting you even the slightest bit wet.'

The mouse saw a problem with this situation. 'But what if you swallowed me? That would be the end of me!' the mouse pointed out.

'But I wouldn't do that', said the snake. 'You're the closest thing I have to a friend. A few hours ago, I wouldn't have thought that a friendship like this, between two species so different would have been possible'.

Touched, and realizing that it was the only way he could ever hope to get to the other side of the river bank, the mouse agreed. So, in he hopped in to the rattle snake's mouth, and across the river they went."

Max had listened intently. "So what happened?" he asked.

"I don't remember." Ransom said. "But I'm guessing it turns out for the best."

Max shook his head. "How does this relate to our situation?" he asked.

VC: "Rattlesnake" Conclusion
Jason — 3 Sep 1999, 9:31 PM

"Even in the rattlesnake, there's a chance for redemption. Even after millennia of evolutionary conflict between two species, there's the opportunity to forge ahead and to create a peaceful relationship between two species... two people. What is a few weeks of fighting compared to countless evolutionary generations of animals hunting each other?"

"But don't you see?" Max asked sharply. "The snake swallowed the mouse. Not because it wanted to, but because it had to! It's its nature!"

"No," Ransom responded. "With enough dedication and determination, even a creature driven only by instinct like the snake, the mouse, or maybe even the Sky Spirit, can overcome their nature. That can-it will-happen here, too."

Max paced away and then turned on Rudy.

"I think you're struggling to justify what you're doing. I'm not sure what your intention is. I think that if you find out that these creatures really are supernatural, your attempts to make peace will lead to some kind of salvation. And on the other hand, if, somehow, through our research we discover that they are just a set of... unusual desert reptile species, that makes it much easier to justify killing them." Max told him.

"No, you're wrong." Ransom said.

"I don't care." Max said. "Either way, I don't agree with you. All I care about is getting this caravan-these people-home. Not continuing your half-brained zoological study. You don't get it yet, Rudy, but you will. It's over. We're going home, whether you're coming with us or not."

On that, Max turned on his heels and left, leaving Rudy alone... and with the suspicion that he was now outnumbered, on both sides.