"The foundlings of Zeta...... Episode 3...."Brethren found"
"This is the place." Cindy said simply. She had her camera but it wasn't on. She wanted to look a bit longer, it seemed. Rigel passed out flashlights. They were long black and metal. Rather awkward, to Snookeroo's thinking. All of them, since the headlights were off, turned their individual light on. Shadows, dancing with the the beams of light and flung sand, consorted.
"How we gonna go about this?" She had the camera perched on a shoulder. As if prearranged; Starsharke and Williamson seemed to fall into a routine. Snook had his rifle and got out the cartridges. He wordlessly slid rounds into the weapon, Rigel using his flash to assist. The cardboard box containing the ammo fluttered in the breeze. When Snook was finished, Rigel and he looked at Cindy, then one another and each nodded. Rigel went back to the blazer, digging into some of his own gear. Cindy made a face; she knew what was coming.
"Rigel; I'm not taking a gun." "Yes, you are." "No I'm not." "You don't have to use it." "Then I don't need it." "Cindy, come on." Snook knew it was a hopeless something to accomplish. But he'd feel better trying. "Who knows what 'tis out here? Better safe then sorry." "Just keep your macho bang-bangs. I'll just end up shooting my foot off."
Rigel emerged; with a leather shoulder-holster with some years and stains upon it. It held a automatic pistol. He inspected a magazine, slid it home, reholstered and held it out for the woman. "Come on, Gal. Hard to beat a Glock." "I can protect myself." "Sure. If you're attacked by something; you can threaten it with syndication."
At last, she took it and the harness. It hung on her like a watermelon of a apple tree. It didn't belong. Rigel thought he'd been patient enough. "It's time to take it to the hoop. Here's the way I see this..." He pointed to his right, the other's left. "I'm gonna go from here that way." Muscles: you're going the other way." "West?" "Yeah, toward the mountains. Cinnn-day: you're going that way." The big man motioned roughly southward, directly away from the vehicle. "Now we all gotta be on our toes and keep our eyes open. Let's give it, say...two hours." "That long!" "Hell, yeah. Crash like this, Cinnn-day; could have stuff spread for miles. And from the looks of things, we could have a lotta little pieces to find."
It was so quiet the following seconds, clicking noises could be heard from the warm-blazer's engine.
"Guess that didn't come out right." Rigel meekly admitted.
"Well," observed Snook, "Assuming we....one of us should find something..something, you know, something teling and all...." "Yeah?" "What do we do then?" "Yell!" If we all walk away from each other for two hours, we're going to have to do more then yell." "We ain't got none of the hand-held radios." "True. Would that I'd remembered!" "Wait." It was Cindy's turn to go back to the car. the others stood quietly as the lass dug around a bit. Laddy thought it was time to leave and tried to follow. Eventually, Cindy came back into the flashlights shine.
She had a purse. She had just snapped it shut and held out what she'd extracted. Two plastic whistles and a two by two inch black box. "Surely, you jest." The males could only stare on. Wind buffeted Cindy's hair. But her eyes twinkled. "Not fancy, yeah. But these will work." "Them itty-bitty whistles are gonna be heard over this wind?" "You'd be surprised by how loud they are.""What in the world do you carry those things for?" Snook had to ask. She wrinkled her nose at the larger. "This is anti-rape stuff." "Let me get this straight," Rigel was clearly not too cool with the suggstions, "I'm supposed to blow one of those silly things if some monster tries to rape me?" "Gee," Cindy didn't miss a beat, "I didn't realize there were monsters that hard up."
This conversation definitely needs a new direction, thought Starsharke.
"What 'tis the box-thing?" Cindy grinned and held it up. "It's a squawk box." "Nein?" "Yes. See?"
The lass pulled out a ring-like item from it's side and the thing yelped electronic murder. Laddy joined in with some yelping of his own. "ALright, already!" Snook took his hands away from his ears after the lass put it back to rest. "I guess it 'tis better then nada." "Not much." claimed Rigel. "I get the squealer, right?" "Squawker." corrected the female. "We could just flip coins..." "Naw. I'll take the damn thing. See how you people are?"
In a thrice, all had their devices pocketed, flashlights at the ready and more or less, a idea where to go. The menfolk each had their firearms slung across shoulders or back and the lass had her camera "So. To it we go." Snook flicked his flash in the general direction of his course. "To it we go." Cindy started off, popping up, over then behind a sand dune. Her light bobbed in the night. Rigel looked to Snook. "Think she'll be alright?" "Nein. Probably naw. But we both know we'd never be able to stop her." "I hear that. Let's go. And man?" "Aye?" "Watch what you're doin', okay?" "You, too."
The youngster turned and headed toward the mountains.
It was said often, in the weeks and months before arriving at Zeta; that the skies would be indeed a sight to behold. So much to see, many times that it would hardly seem like night at all, from all the celestial objects prowling past above them. But those discussions meant nothing here: it was as dark as the inside of a bag of coal; the clouds allowed nothing past them. The sand itself resisted easy vision and foothold alike. The wind muttered and made visible sand-waves across the dunes. Snook, began measured, back and forth sweeps with his flashlight. The rifle had been slung onto his back; but he felt no comfort from it. This was a place that when one was alone, you felt small; very small.
Something bumped his left leg and suddenly, he didn't feel quite so small. Laddy wagged his tail and lolled his tongue at the mere joy of being alive and with his best friend. The lord has blessed me so much, Snook realized. He bent down to a knee to scratch his blessing's ear.
"Well, shaggy buddy; I've done it again, have I naw? What the heck 'twas going through my head......" Snook stood. Now talking to himself. "But we gotta know. I gotta know."
For Laddy, he'd heard enough. The dog trotted off to investigate some boulders ahead. Snook followed, trying to do his chore. He soon began to find more bits and pieces of LS-2. Small stuff. Some tubing that might have been part of the cooling system; a dozen heat shield tiles, sticking out of the sand like cheap, mildewed shower flooring. The more he found, the grimmer his mood. He began to wonder if he really wanted to know now; to know any of what that last few minutes had been like for LS-2. Did they know they were going to crash? Did they see their....... nein, They could naw have. Snook refused to accept that reflection. Foster had been their pilot and everyone knew he was the best pilot on the Lewis and Clark
reconnaissance. He would fought this to the......well....till he could naw anymore. You could bet on it.
Ahead, to his left, he spotted another of the mesa-like rocks. It had to be a good hundred, perhaps even hundred fifty feet in the air. Laddy was prancing about over hence and Snook's flashlight beam soon joined in the inspection.
He mood continued it's fall.
About the base of the thick, blue-black rock spire were clumps of stone; some as large as beer kegs. They were not the rounded, smooth sort: worn down by years of blown sand and pebbles. They were cracked, freshly marred. Just fallen, very recent, Snook reckoned. Just beyond the first batch of stone, huddled a few yards about the rock spire, was what had once been a wing of LS-2. The starboard one, Snook concluded. Once longer then a semi-truck, now it was crushed like so much discarded aluminum foil.
Snook turned his flash up; up the side of the spire. Craggy and chipped, it's profile backed by black, lumpy clouds, he could see little. His guess was LS-2 had struck this spire; tearing off this wing and lord knew what all else. This also meant the debris field almost certainly started here and ran Rigel's way. As that big dummy, groused the younger, had no doubt guessed from the start. The security chief was always first in line for the dirty jobs.
The wind was whistling around the rock spire now and he didn't much care for it.
A sound. High-pitched. EEEE-EEE! EE-EE!
The squawk box. The lad began to jog toward it, trying to watch his path with his flashlight and make headway in the sand. A quarter mile on; a dozen dunes and what could have been one of LS-2's cargo-bay doors later, Cindy's bobbing flashlight intersected his course. He stopped and she soon popped into view, blinding him with her flash. She looked scared.
"Do..." she was panting, "Do you hear that?!" "Aye. Come on!" The lass did, as best she could and they soon came upon what could have been a man's tracks. They followed.
EEE-EEE! EEE-EEE! The squealing was maddening. And frightening, too, somehow.
Another quarter mile and they came upon the first of the big, impression marks on the ground; the sand pressed down, as if a great weight had bounced here, bounced and tumbled onwards. The blowing sand was swallowing it; eatting the evidence of something ..something.
One hundred fifty yards later, they found their crewmate. He was on the near side of a very tall dune, halfway up. He was crouching on his haunches, not really sitting. As they hustled up, both beams of light centering on him, he wordlessly deactivated the squawk box. He set it, small in his hands, at his feet. Wind blown sand brushed him.
No one said anything. Cindy panted, catching her breath in ragged in-outs. As if for strength, she swung up her camera onto a shoulder. Then suddenly, she drew no confidence from the gesture. She took it down. She tuned away. Looked like she wanted to run away.
Snook fought the urge to join her.
Cindy spoke. It was a whisper. "He found them."
Ask. You must, Starsharke told himself. "Where?" Above, Rigel locked eyes with him, then cocked a thumb over a shoulder. Back over the dune.
Snook felt his stomach fall to his knees. This was why they'd come. This was what they had to know.
And knowing hurt.
Snook found he was looking at his feet. He peered up to Rigel. The other was looking at the sand between his own feet. Shaking his head.