Dedicated to the victims of the European Heat Wave Summer 2003.
The mission had mixed results: if viewed strictly by the book it would be called a success, but unlike their Captain, neither Walter "Doc" Hartford nor Shane Gooseman were by-the-book guys.
Basically, it had been a fairly simple job. One of the long range probes routinely patrolling the most distant and thinly populated sectors had sent pictures of probably artificial structures on planet Do'onarithus – simply called Doon as abbreviation of its complicated Andorian name – that might or might not be an outpost of the Queen.
So BETA had been called and Walsh – without wasting much thought on the issue – commed Goose to collect Doc from Tarkon and get to Doon to find out what the old witch was doing on that heap of eroded sand. The Queen had been silent for too long anyway, giving Walsh the distinct feeling that they were missing something.
So far, so good.
They had set down the Explorer beyond the horizon and crossed the remaining stretch of wasteland on their hover bikes, parking them well out of detector and hearing range behind a stone formation and crept up on the place.
Sneaking up the last meters along a rock formation, Goose had soon signaled Doc an 'all clear'. It was a Crown outpost, all right, but it had been abandoned years ago, probably even before the Armada paid its visit to Earth. The reason the ramshackle barracks hadn't shown up on earlier recon pictures was because – apparently – it had been buried under one of the wandering dunes. At least, the low buildings looked that way.
They had no clue why the outpost had been abandoned, though Goose would put money on lack of water and abundant amounts of heat. He wouldn't bet on lack of scenery in the landscape: Tortuna wasn't much of a sight either, after all.
So far, so good.
Then Doc decided to look into the old shacks to see if there was technology left behind, and didn't wait for Shane to voice his objections. He probably should have.
There was technology left behind.
Actually, it was a surprise for nosy visitors.
An EMP flash.
It didn't kill them, but definitely destroyed all electronics. Including their implants, comms, Doc's CDU, as the hacker heartbrokenly discovered, and – to Goose's everlasting pleasure – the glider bikes.
So far, not so good.
Not that Doc wasn't a pleasant traveling partner.
He was – when taken minus the smart remarks, easy quips, and endless complaints. The last thing Goose actually listened to from the hacker included something like 'reason no. 984', whatever that meant. He would prefer Doc to save breath and water – and spare him the bull in the process.
He'd actually told him that, shortly after nightfall when they'd started – on foot, how else? – back to their ship. Goose calculated three nights for the trip, maybe four. He could do it in about a day, but then he'd have to leave Doc behind, and there was no way to predict whether the ship was still functioning or not. He had no way to calculate the EMP flash's range. If the ship was dead, he wouldn't be able to get back to the outpost in time, and the hacker couldn't find his way back through the wasteland to their ship without electronics. And those were fried.
Even now, in the wee hours of the morning, the temperature was well above thirty degrees Celsius. By midday it would soar to fifty and above. They had to dig in, taking cover under the safety foil blankets for Doc to make it. And Shane knew that with the fried implant, his own chances at fifty plus were limited as well.
Water was his main worry. They had two canteens, standard rations for two days, that had been stored in the glider bikes. Not enough for the distance ahead. It wouldn't last until the end. He was rationing strictly and didn't talk, keeping his mouth and nose covered. He was an ST, he knew what options he had for survival, implant or not.
Unfortunately, being an ST also meant that he was unscrupulous when it came to survival.
He just hoped not that unscrupulous.
The white ball of churning fire crept above the horizon.
"Dig in," he snarled with a voice hoarse from a dry throat.
"Wow! He speaks!" Doc mocked.
Shane ignored him, driving the small folding shovel into the ground. The sun was rising quickly. It was the enemy.
The day would be long under the blanket.
He jiggled the canteen, judging its content by weight, then took the first swallow of the night. Keeping it in his mouth as long as possible, he moved it back and forth between his teeth and over his tongue, as he shouldered their backpack and stomped on through the thin drifting sand.
Even Doc seemed to have realized the gravity of their situation by now. The hacker was mighty silent on the second night of their hike. At least he'd stopped joking about Goose being their homing pigeon, since they were relying on his senses to lead them back to their ship.
Shane had ground his teeth at the joke, knowing full well – better than Doc – that the real joke was that it actually was a "pigeon sense" which helped him to keep his bearings in the middle of nowhere. But he'd rather die – or actually, Doc would die – before Goose told him.
Unfortunately, the direction sense was the only pigeon quality included in his genetic makeup. Relying on it led them back, but also meant he couldn't suppress his ST senses as a whole. And the rest of them were rather...
...sharply focused on survival, which meant...
...only liquid now that their canteens were almost empty, holding only two more mouthfuls of water for each of them. Not that STs were choosy when it came to drinking water. Salt, oil, bacteria, chemicals... didn't matter much except for the taste and that was unimportant. If there was any drinkable stuff around, his senses zeroed in on it.
Unfortunately, there was...
The sun crossed the horizon again.
"Dig in," he croaked.
Goose filled his mouth with water before he slipped under his foil blanket to sleep away the daylight heat. Now only one ration was left in his canteen. He would take it when they headed out the next evening. Next night, they had to reach the ship, or...
...he didn't want to go there. Closing his eyes he forced his body to sleep. As for his mind...
...the prey lay still now, breathing heavily as if in fear. Or in passion. The smooth skin of the neck was exposed, covered in sweat.
He didn't mind the additional salt when his fangs penetrated the skin. His ears sang with the faint cry of pain and defeat from the prey. His mouth filled with the sweetness of both: water and food. Blood. Metal on his tongue lapping over the punctures in the dark neck, not a drop would be wasted...
...beneath his foil blanket Goose awoke with a start, breathing harshly, trying to calm down. He'd never get used to these... dreams. They were far too real. Dammit. He still tasted the sweet copper of blood on his tongue.
If only night had fallen already. If only he could take his last sip of water to wash the memory of the dream from his mouth. But his senses told him the sun was still up outside.
"I had a really strange dream last night," Doc yawned, trying to get to his feet about five hours later. After watching the wobbly knees a moment, Goose pulled him up in a single pull before he resumed packing up the foil blanket. The hacker shook his head, obviously dizzy. "I don't recall all the details–" he sighed theatrically, "–but it revolved around Maya nibbling my neck and she did all these naughty things and–"
"Doc," the ST snarled. "I'm not the person to tell your dreams about the princess to! Understood?"
"Y– yes." Belatedly, the hacker realized who he was talking to and decided to change the subject. "I wish I had more water left. I've never felt this parched before, even though I was doing fairly well before I slept." He shrugged. "I'm from New Orleans. I'm used to high temperatures." He shook his head. "God, the last time I felt that dizzy was when I went through a closed glass door."
At Goose's inquiring glance: "I lost a lot of blood, man."
Wordlessly Goose gave him his last sip of water. It wouldn't change much and he didn't want the hacker to become truly weak. It didn't bear thinking about what could... would?... happen then. After a moment, he pulled out his blaster, checked its charge, and handed it with a lethal charge to a flabbergasted Doc. "If anyone comes near you, shoot."
"Anyone? Here?" The pallid hacker blinked. "Even if it's you?"
"Especially if it's me." Goose's voice was harsh from thirst. "I don't do well without liquid. Unlike you I can go on without – I will function – but I'm at a point where any liquid will do."
"Then I'm safe," Doc announced with a ghost of his usual cheerfulness. "I don't have any either."
"STs aren't very choosy when it comes to survival, Doc. You do have drinkable liquid." Goose's eyes glittered strangely pale in a grim, sand-plastered face. His gaze fixed on the hacker's throat. "About six liters of it."
Tossing the pack onto his back he stomped ahead, taking pains not to look back at Doc.
Back at BETA
"...we reached the ship just at sunrise, sir. The EMP hadn't affected it." Goose finished and awaited his assessment.
"Anything else to report?" The commander asked sternly, scrutinizing him calmly.
"Nothing important, sir." He stood at attention.
"And was there anything unimportant, Gooseman?" Walsh tapped on the report.
"The second night... I had a dream, sir."
"You don't have to report your dreams, Gooseman. Having dreams is normal."
"If you say so, sir."
The commander shook his head. "It's ok, Lieutenant. You'll be called if further questions arise. Dismissed."
He watched the boy leave. He looked rather pale after the final question. Maybe Doc isn't the only one returning with anaemia from Doon.