The Pak'ma'ra set some snares in hope that something large might be attracted by the smell of water. I noted that he used a knot very similar to the one Na'Tal and I tied the day he was nearly hanged. None of us expected anything to be caught in the snares and that is precisely what we got. I have heard it said that our thoughts form the Universe. Maybe we should have held more hope.
We tried to rest and to sleep, but I had had a full day's rest and could not sleep. Instead I meditated and talked to Na'Tal and caught some bugs to eat before they ate me. If they wanted to suck my flesh I would get them first. As the day ended, we filled our water slings - me and the Pak'ma'ra had 20 litres of water each, whilst Nar'Bon and the Human had only 15. It would give us 15 or so days of water at full rations - we figured that we would need something to keep our stomachs functional and at least partly occupied. We also took the bowls and material for the still, just to ensure that we had enough water in case something went wrong. We were hoping to average around 20km per day, preferably 25, but we had no idea of the terrain between us and our destination.
I prayed that G'Quan would walk with us.
Apart from the survival kit, water slings, still and tent materials, we had very little to carry. 20kg of water is a lot to carry, but it would diminish quickly enough, and both I and the Pak'ma'ra are young and strong. I was much more worried about the Human than anyone else - Nar'Bon is a Narn, and we endure. Humans can be very delicate creatures and our pet Human was no exception.
The Pak'ma'ra left behind some water to prime the pump after Russell dismantled it. I looked askance at the Pak'ma'ra - who would pass this way after us if the Markab were indeed all dead? He shrugged and got as close to a goofy look on his face as a Pak'ma'ra can get.
We set out on the walk.
We walked for many days. Our stomachs grumbled and shrieked with the desire to be fed, but there was nothing to eat. I grabbed insects out of the air when I could - they aren't great eating, but are better than nothing. Russell was finding the going difficult. We had to encourage him constantly to keep him moving. Our daily pace grew slower and slower, to the point where we were only averaging 15km per day.
Around the tenth night of walking, Russell fell into an insect nest. The bugs were small, white and juicy, and we fell upon them like a horde of cadets who had been on survival training for a week. I found the queen bug - she was as thick as my finger - and was about to eat her when the Pak'ma'ra suggested that I might give her to Russell - he had had, after all, found the nest. I grumbled and moaned, but gave her up. I grabbed handfuls of her eggs instead. This colony of bugs would be lucky to survive our predation.
The insects were the best meal we had had for ten days. We didn't get very far that night - we must have spent around two standard hours cleaning out the nest. At least we laid ourselves down to rest with full stomachs. I slept well that day.
The bugs reacted badly with Russell's digestive system. He apparently spent most of the day with cramps. I was too busy with my dreams to notice his discomfort. The Pak'ma'ra was fussing over him when I awoke. The Pak'ma'ra was clueless. What we had to do was expel what remained of the food in Russell's stomach, and there was one very easy way to do that.
Then'Sha'Tur is a martial art that takes advantage of the weak spots in the opponent's physique. I jabbed Russell in a certain spot of his abdomen, and produced a very quick result. Somewhat too quick for my liking - I don't think that I'll ever get the stains out of these boots the Markab gave me. By appearances, his digestion had effectively shut down. Russell was too weak to walk, but we had to keep walking, so we rigged a stretcher for him, and dragged it behind us. It was slow but better than no progress at all. Halfway through the night, Russell said that he could walk. He blamed the queen for his digestive upset. Bedamned Humans! Wasting good food!
The next night we had to half carry Russell to keep him moving. The day after that my eyes, face and neck puffed up so badly I could hardly see or breathe. I didn't know what was afflicting me, but I could hardly walk, it so weakened me. Nar'Bon bandaged my eyes and had me drink some of the alcohol, bringing the swelling down enough that I could breathe. I was terribly slow, however, and held the party back to only 10 km that night. I just wanted to lie down and stay there for ever. I didn't know what had caused this allergic reaction and had never had such an affliction in my life prior to this trek through the desert. The Pak'ma'ra suggested that it was contact with human flesh. I didn't know. I didn't care. I just wanted the agony to be over. I wanted to be with my lover and my child on Babylon 5, not here in the desert with Nar'Bon and two aliens. Even Na'Tal was no help.
We made slow progress the next night as well. Russell was utterly exhausted and Nar'Bon had begun to fade. Even the Pak'ma'ra was starting to look bad. I was not exactly in fighting mettle myself, but much of the swelling had regressed. I refused to touch the Human - I didn't want to feel so ill again.
When I tried to get everyone moving the next night, they whinged and moaned. I felt absolutely wonderful - I had obviously assimilated the insects well, and they had replenished me somewhat. I had also meditated heavily on some of the writings of G'Quan as I rested, and I had dreamt that he walked with me.
My companions looked terrible. The Human was scarlet faced, with lumps of peeling skin making him look even less attractive than normal. His eyes were puffy little slits in his narrow face. The Pak'ma'ra seemed to have shrunken in on himself and his hide was more grey than its normal tan. Little Nar'Bon was smaller than ever - my tough offsider looked as if he had faced his last round in the ring. His spots were dull and his face rough and chapped. When I think about it I suppose I looked no better. We were all filthy and half starved. I had tightened my belt as far as it could go, and it was still too big. At least Markabs knew how to manufacture tough boots - despite days of walking over the abrasive sands, my feet were still protected.
I managed to get them up and walking, but they were so very slow. Only 20km remained when they decided that they couldn't walk any further. After some discussion, it was decided that I should try to push to get to the town. I felt as if I could walk 50km. In some odd way I felt that I had been on a pilgrimage, that somehow by fasting and walking I had been cleansed, purified of all my evil. G'Quan walked with me on this holy journey and I was blessed by his presence.
I took the navcomp and a communicating device which the Human called a walkie talkie, my ration of water, and set off into the night. I was full of confidence. We had agreed that the rest of the group would stay where they were, in a valley sheltered from some of the sun and wind, for at least another night. If I hadn't returned by the second night, they would start travelling in the direction of the settlement. If they did start travelling, they should leave a trail of cairns so that I could follow them when I returned with a vehicle.
I walked and was almost happy.
I had travelled around five kilometres when the wind started to increase. I called my erstwhile companions and asked the Pak'ma'ra to check the weather. I didn't want to be caught by a dust storm as I had just left the arroyo I had been travelling in and had no shelter. In the time it took him to climb out of the valley they were in, I walked another kilometre. He didn't think that the wind would further strengthen.
The Pak'ma'ra was wrong. In the next half hour, the wind strength picked up to the point where sand was being whipped along to hip level above the ground. The walkie talkie reception was crackly as I asked him to check again - I had a bad feeling about the wind and what it would bring. It didn't seem quite natural.
"Umm, Na'Tiel, it looks like we are in for a blow. I suggest you find some cover and dig yourself in. There's a sand storm coming in - should be about another half an hour. Over."
Shrock - what could I say to that? There was no cover around here - it was all sand dunes. I picked up my pace as best I could as I tried to tack across the wind. Maybe there would be a convenient haven somewhere in my path.
My luck had abandoned me. No cover, only sand dunes. I couldn't even ask the Pak'ma'ra for further advice - the walkie talkie was only emitting static.
I dug myself down into the bottom of a sand ridge as the first winds carrying swirls of sand wrapped themselves around me. My head and shoulders were covered by the tough material of my water sling. I was well covered before the sandstorm hit. I thought that I was safe enough, now that I was dug into the sand - I had been worried about having my hide abraded off me by the gale force winds - but I had lost the wonderful feeling of everything being right with the Universe.
Where was G'Quan now when I needed his guidance so?
My mind was distracted from metaphysical and philosophical matters by the encroachment of the sand over me. At first there was only a little, but then more and more sand began weighing me down. I pushed it away and shrugged it off, but there came a point where I could not push the sand away any longer. I realised that the sand ridges were on the march.
To leave the relative safety of my burrow was to die, but the sand was asphyxiating me. I started to become dizzy, and what I could see of my little world swam. I could not die here, not here, not so far from anyone. I struggled and heaved and pushed against the sand, barely keeping myself high enough that I was not smothered. It kept up for what felt like hours. I soon exhausted what strength remained to me after 17 nights of trekking through the desert. I floundered and wriggled and pushed my way upwards in a desperate effort to stay alive. I had to live. I could not die - how would So'Kath and Na'Kath ever know what became of me?
I persisted through sheer pride and need to live. At last the wind started to die down and the sand stopped trying to outrun me. I was able to break through to the surface, where I lay on the sand and gasped for breath. I was totally and utterly exhausted. I couldn't walk if I tried and didn't want to. I vaguely noted that the sun was well up in the sky, and I covered my head with the empty part of my water sling, and fell asleep.
I awoke feeling much rested with the sun high in the sky. Only I wasn't in the middle of the desert anymore. I was in a box of sand like had been in Kimmini's playground. I lifted my head up and looked around.
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