Sunday, March 31, 2013

Star Travelers - Special Delivery: A Plan Interrupted

Fatu went to answer the insistent knocking on the door. The visitor handed over a scroll, bobbed his head as a salute and left. Fatu closed the door and broke the seal on the scroll. He was reading it as he came back to the table where Jake was sitting with his drink waiting.
            “Well, we’re being punished,” Fatu said as he sat back down at the table. “Rand is sending us to Assa on a scouting mission. We’re to check out the tribe’s strength and defenses.”
            “Isn’t Assa west of here?” Jake asked. “I didn’t think there was anything worth having west of here.”
            “As I said, we’re being punished - me, for introducing you to him and you for ‘stealing’ his blaster.”
            “I didn’t steal it,” Jake said with a grin. “I won it fair and square. Can’t help it if the guy has a ‘tell’ a rookie could read.” Jake took a swig of his drink. Wine. Yuk! He hated the stuff, but they seemed to live on it around here. “You’ll have to go without me. If 3su doesn’t show up in a two days I’m headed east to get her.”
            “Can’t do that,” Fatu said with conviction. “You’ll have to leave with me and then circle back here when it gets dark to wait or go on to Mazala.” Fatu leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the table. “Rand has spies everywhere. You can’t just ‘not show.’ He’d know in a heartbeat. He’d like nothing better than to relieve you of your weapons and lock you up. As for me, I’d spend the better part of the hottest months on Alta III in the god forsaken sand trap of Assa.” He downed his drink.
            “He’d have a harder time getting my blaster away from me then he did getting 3su’s away from her.” Jake refilled Fatu’s cup. “When do we need to leave?”
            “Rand expects us out of here by first light. We need to get to Assa by mid-day. You don’t want to be between here and there during the dark time. Whole caravans have been known to disappear on that stretch of sand.”
            “I’ll leave 3su a note.”
            “Nope, that’s out of the question too,” Fatu informed him. “What Rand lacks in technology he makes up for in bodies. He trusts no one. He has my place searched each time he sends me out scouting. He thinks I don’t know, but I have my ways.” Fatu smiled as he popped a grape into his mouth.
            “Toothpick in the door jamb?” Jake asked?
            “Piece of straw,” Fatu confirmed. “Less obvious and easier to find on Alta then a toothpick.” Fatu drained his cup. “I’m going to throw a few things together. The sun will be up before we know it and I want to catch a little sleep before we leave. You’d better too,” Fatu advised as he rose to his feet. “If 3su doesn’t find me here right away I told her to wait. She’ll probably be here when you get back.”
            Jake gulped down the last of his wine. Fatu didn’t know 3su like he did. He needed to be here when she arrived otherwise there was no telling what trouble she would get herself into. Sometimes that woman was just an ‘accident looking for a place to happen.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Star Travelers - Special Delivery: Kadear

I was still pondering this strange world and its monsters when I glimpsed Kadear off in the distance. I slid down off Tarrazu and asked her to sit. I checked her bites again. They didn’t look angry in any way and she seemed to be lucid, even attentive as I passed her the last of the meat jerky and gave her the remainder of the water.
            “I owe you, Tarrazu,” I said as I stroked the fur on her neck between her heads just as I observed Adobi-rand petted his dresarge. She acknowledged my caress with a deep purr.
            “If I ever get back this way, which I fervently hope not – no slight against you intended,” I said apologetically. “I will bring you a whole dried malfit for a treat.”
            I stepped up to her chest, threw my arms as far across it as possible and gave her a big hug. The tongue in the head closest to me lolled out and licked me roughly up the right side of my face. It was a very dry and grating feeling. She would have done it again except that I stepped back out of her reach. I do think she was feeling maternal toward me.
            “Off you go,” I ordered. I pushed her on the shoulder to get her turned around. “I can walk from here.” I gave her a gentle slap on the rump. She looked over her shoulder as if to make sure I was serious. “Go on,” I coaxed. “I’ll be fine.”
            She turned and ambled off toward home.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Star Travelers - Special Delivery: Arr and Kay-o v. Parnac

Arr sat cross legged on the pod’s ramp in the shade of the doorway. Kay-o lay by his side, his tongue lolling out from the heat of the desert surrounding them.
            Arr hated the pod. The first English medical term he learned was ‘claustrophobic.’ The pod was stiflingly cramped. The initial trip in it from his home planet to Jake’s ship, the Calpernia, was almost unbearable. Jake insisted on strapping him in the first time. The second time Arr did a very juvenile thing, he growled at Jake. Arr was eighteen and once his species, the henu, reached adulthood it was considered extremely rude to growl, but Arr couldn’t help himself. Jake backed off and Arr made the flight white knuckled and grinding teeth all the way to the Calpernia.
He was thrilled to find that the claustrophobia subsided once he was out in the larger ship. It was a great relief since staying on his home planet would have meant living the rest of his life alone after the devastating attack of ‘The Others’ wiped out his people.
            Arr stood up and slipped his spacer coat off. The thing was thermostatically controlled, but Arr still wasn’t used to wearing a coat when it was hot outside. He would rather sweat a little in his shirt sleeves. He tossed the coat on his chair inside. He reached up and stretched toward the doorframe above his head.
Kay-o didn’t move. No doubt he was sweltering in his heavy fur coat.
Arr could turn the air on, but that would mean sitting in the confines of the pod because if he left the dar-dolf alone inside he would tear the place apart in boredom.
            Jake parked their pod next to 3su’s for an expedient escape. 3su’s only concern was convenience when she picked her parking spot. Concealment or shade were not as important as proximity to Kadear. However, being left behind in the bald sun was not a comfortable situation for Arr and the dar-dolf.
            Arr wished Jake would have taken them along. The more time he spent with Jake the more difficult he found it to be separated from him. Arr couldn’t really put his feelings into words. He just felt lost when Jake was not in sight. But, Jake gave the orders. Jake said stay. He and Kay-o would wait until their leader either came back or called for them to come assist him.
Arr walked out to the edge of the pod’s ramp. He studied 3su’s cloaked ship against its desert backdrop. Jake needed the sensors on their pod to locate it. Arr could see it. His eyes could detect the faint break between the cloaked vessel and the actual landscape around it. He walked out to it and ran his hand across its smooth surface.
He was so bored. He wished he remembered the flat, he could have read to pass the time.
            “Come on, Kay-o,” he called to the dar-dolf. “Let’s go for a walk.”
            The huge beast raised his head, closed his mouth long enough to swallow, then went back to panting.
            “Come on,” Arr coaxed. He picked up a stick and waved it at the beast. “Here! Kay-o.” He lobbed the stick out away from the pod.
            Kay-o came to his feet and moved to the edge of the ramp, but stopped short when his paw hit the sand. He lifted it and moved back up onto the coated metal grating.
            “Too hot for your bare paws?” Arr asked. “I guess it is a bit warm to play fetch.” As he started toward the pod he thought he felt the sand shift under his feet just as his eyes registered the fact that the sun was slipping behind the smaller of the three moons. The mid-day eclipse Jake told him about was starting.
            He was sure he felt the sand move again. He wondered if it was a lizard like the ones that burrowed in by the lake at home. He thought about digging to see, but Kay-o interrupted his thoughts with a low ominous growl.
            He remembered Jake’s warning to stay near the pod and get inside at the first sign of the eclipse.
            Kay-o had backed up the ramp and stood in the doorway growling menacingly.
            Arr came up beside him and stood looking out toward the sand.
            As the sun slowly passed behind the moon the slight breeze, that was the only redeeming quality to the desert heat ceased. The air became very still and everything went silent. The insects and birds that were calling just a moment before disappeared. It was as though he and Kay-o were the only creatures on the planet until he heard the merest rustle of shifting sand.
            In the pale glow of light around the edge of the small moon Arr thought he saw the sand in front of the pod undulate. He stood transfixed - the almond shaped pupils of his cat eyes so large the china blue of the iris disappeared giving the impression that his eyes were totally black. He scanned the landscape. Kay-o rumbled deep in his throat.
            “Shh…” Arr warned. He laid his hand on the dar-dolf’s back.
            The sun continued on its course starting to slide behind the first of the two larger moons. It grew darker.
            Arr’s eyes were better than Kay-o’s in the dark, their hearing was similarly acute, but when it came to their sense of smell Kay-o had his beat by a mile.
            As it grew darker the dar-dolf raised his head to catch the scent, then lowered it and started to move forward.
            Arr reached out and grabbed him by the ruff of his neck.
            “No,” he whispered without taking his eyes off the sand. “Stay.”
            In the last pale rays of light before they were plunged into total darkness Arr saw the huge triangular head of an enormous snake push its way out of the sand and start to slither up the ramp toward them.
            The light red/gold hair on Arr’s arms rose in fright. He tightened his grip on Kay-o.
“Back!” he ordered.
The dar-dolf obeyed. They both stepped into the pod and Arr hit the sensor by the door. The instant it slid shut they heard a heavy thud as something huge struck it from the other side. Arr backed away as it continued to strike again and again. The violence of the blows rocked the pod.
            Kay-o bellowed threateningly at the potential intruder. His voice ricocheted around the tiny interior of the cabin. Arr flicked on the outside probe lights.
            He only caught a glimpse before the scene shifted back to the still of the sandy desert landscape, but what he saw in that glimpse made him feel entirely different about being trapped in the pod. He now saw the pod as a protective cocoon because that mere glimpse showed him the sand alive with snakes – huge, slithering, ravenous snakes – now lurking just outside the ring of illumination cast by the probe lights.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Star Travelers - Special Delivery: The Dangers of Parnac

Between the sleep deprivation torture and the gentle roll of Tarrazu’s gait I fell fast asleep. I didn’t wake until I fell off with a resounding thud on the very unrelenting desert sand. By the time I came to my senses and pulled myself up to a sitting position Tarrazu was at least fifteen feet away and headed for home. My first instinct was to call out, but my throat was so dry I hardly managed a squeak. I tried to bring up some moisture into my mouth and staggered clumsily to my feet.
            “Tarrazu, Stop!” I ordered in a hoarse croak.
“Tarrazu, Come!”
            Damn my mind was in a fog and she was getting further and further away.
            I stumbled toward her retreating bulk.
            “Tarrazu, Stop! Please!”
            What was the command Keela told me?
            “Tarrazu, Sit!”
            The beast immediately stopped and flopped down flat on the sand. By the time I reached her she had her heads on her front paws with a huge purple tongue hanging out of each. She appeared as exhausted as I felt. I retrieved one of the water skins from her back and poured some into my hand for her to lap up. She did not disappoint. She went after the water like a Tuldavian Surface Skater. My hand couldn’t hold enough water so I tried alternately squirting the water into her mouths. That was a much more efficient delivery system. She eventually appeared to be relieved. I drank my own fair share and then sat down with my back up against her side.
            How long was I asleep? By the alignment of the moons and sun I would say that mid-day was not very far off. We should have reached Kadear by now, but when I lined up the position with the placement of that dimple on Gresee as Keela instructed, I didn’t see any sign of Kadear in the distance.
            I rose to my feet. I couldn’t see anything in any direction except sand and a lot of scrub brush.
            I was wandering aimlessly when my foot hit a mound of sand and I went down on one knee. When I got back to my feet I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were two mounds with a rut in the middle. They formed a circle perhaps thirty feet across.  When my eye followed it the only break in the two mounds was the one Tarrazu made when she headed away from me and the depression in them where I fell.
            Tarrazu had been walking in circles for god only knew how long. I couldn’t image why she would do this until I remembered more of Keela’s instructions, ‘push on either one of her shoulders to get her to turn.’ One of my hands or arm must have been loosely waving and tapping her shoulder as I slept. Gads! What a mess. No wonder the beast was tired.
            I went back to her and took the blanket from her back. I unrolled it and spread out the bounty Keela’s servant packed for our trip. There was the standard fare for these parts, cheese, bread and fruit, but there was also the addition of some sort of meat jerky. I took this to be meant for Tarrazu since I wasn’t served it thus far in my visit. In any case, Tarrazu liked it. It seemed to revive her further.
            We finished our meal. I bundled our supplies back up in the blanket and climbed up on Tarrazu. From the higher vantage point on her back I could see a pile of boulders off in the distance in the general direction we should be going to reach Kadear. I guided her toward them with a few pats on her left shoulder and a thump on her rump.
            Within half an hour we arrived at the outcrop of stone. I felt it would make a good place to shelter for the coming eclipse. The boulders were in a gentle ‘L’ shape. I would put my back to them, Tarrazu on my right and the fire in front of us. I noticed with satisfaction the rock would even protect us from a sandstorm if it came from the same direction it did when it overtook Fatu, Salib and me. I ordered Tarrazu to sit, which she did obediently and I started to gather fuel for the fire.
            When I unpacked our blanket pack earlier I noticed Keela or her man thoughtfully provided me with a fire starter and a small bundle of tinder. I don’t know if they anticipated us getting lost, but I figured no one on Alta III went anywhere without the ability to keep Parnac at bay. I raced to get the fire lit as the sun started to slip slowly behind Gresee.
            Tarrazu lied down comfortably at my side. I leaned back against the rocks behind me and tossed another branch on the fire for good measure.
            The eclipse of the smaller moon came and went. As I experienced before, the gentle breeze on the desert stilled. The fire crackled in the silence of the brief span of light before the sun started its descent behind the two larger moons.
            The moment we would have been shrouded in total darkness, if not for our fire, Tarrazu growled deep in her throat and came up to a sitting position at my side.
            “It’s okay,” I tried to assure her in a shaky whisper. Once again it was what I couldn’t see that frightened me.
            She stared out toward the darkness and rumbled again deep in her chest. What could she see, or sense, that I could not?
            Tarrazu growled again with more malice in the sound. She ended it by coming to her feet with a low pitched aggressive scream that made the hair on the back of my neck come to attention.
            I patted her side with the intention of calming her. “Sit, Tarrazu,” I coaxed.
            Instead of sitting she took one step away from me toward the darkness.
            “Sit!” I commanded more sternly.
            She growled ferociously, screamed in anger and jumped out of the circle of light and into the darkness. What I could hear I can only describe as the sounds of a bitterly fought battle. I caught only glimpses of it when Tarrazu would roll or tumble back away from whatever it was she was fighting. I saw her deadly tail arch up in the fire light and heard it smack into something with a heavy thud. I caught glimpses of some sort of black attacker, but could not determine shape or size. I thought I saw a huge arm around one of her necks at one point when she rolled back into the light. She threw it off and went back at whatever it was with snapping teeth and claws extended.
            I threw more fuel on the fire in hopes of driving whatever it was away, but not succeeding in doing that, I plastered myself up against the safety of the rock face and prayed that Tarrazu would win against whatever monster the eclipse brought down upon us.
            Nine minutes and thirty-two seconds is a long time to listen to a violent battle. The darkness stretched on and on punctuated only by quick glimpses of parts of Tarrazu and the sounds of the fight just outside the halo of light from the fire.
            Eventually though, the sun started to peeked from behind the second, large moon. I wasn’t sure exactly what I saw right then. It took me several minutes to figure out what appeared to have happened and align it with what I saw. Tarrazu was standing a few yards away. Her massive jaws of both heads locked on an enormous snake – easily 25 to 30 feet long and big enough around to have swallowed me whole. Lucky for me, Tarrazu killed it. There were numerous smaller dead snakes up to six feet long piled around her feet. What did not register when I glimpsed her at first light was some of the smaller snakes leaving the attack on her to burrow their way into the sand.
            I called her to me and was relieved she came. I ran my hand over her looking for any injury. She thanked me with a wet kiss of her rough tongue when I got in range of one of her massive heads. She had several punctures around her neck and on her paws. I washed them with water. I fervently hoped the snakes were not poisonous. Since, by some miracle of alien composition, she was not bleeding I was anxious to get away from this place. I smothered the fire, tired up our bundle and lead her away toward Kadear.
            As we walked I tried to put what just occurred into some sort of sense. Did I inadvertently place our camp on a nest of vipers, or was there more to it than that? Could this be what everyone was afraid of during the eclipse? The snakes obviously burrowed beneath the sand in order to ride out the heat of the day. Did they arise during the darkness of the eclipse to feed? It would make sense why Keela was not afraid of the eclipse in Mazala. Their city was walled. Perhaps in their ancient past their ancestors built the wall and rid themselves of the snakes within it. The reason Kadear still feared the eclipse of Parnac was not the reality of the snakes, but the followers of Kadear that were Altans taking advantage of the dark time to carry out their criminal acts.
            Was Kadear’s population ignorant of the real threat? Had superstition taken the place of fact over the ages?

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