We rumbled and bumped our way closer to the settlement. I was not going to call it a town until we actually reached it and found out exactly what facilities it had. The Human found a track which soon turned into a paved road. A ground vehicle had run off the road and was half covered by sand. My first priority was to obtain a new vehicle (as I was suspicious that this one may have had some sort of beacon), but I did not fancy the idea of having to pick bits of dead Markab off the upholstery.
The sun was setting as we pulled into the main street of Talorus. Everyone had different priorities. I wanted to dump this vehicle, the Human wanted to find an airfield, the Pak'ma'ra wanted to find somewhere to stay before it got dark and Nar'Bon just wanted dinner. My suggestion was picked up first, mainly because I was the most determined, and the others started putting in their request for the type of vehicle they wanted. I quickly grew tired of the "discussions" and went and found a vehicle that looked spacious enough for us. Only problem was that I couldn't get the key pad lock open.
So I shot it instead.
Suddenly, everything became really, really quiet. No garble warble from behind me. My companions had abruptly stopped "discussing" options. I opened the door and got in. Something was speaking Markab at me and red flashing lights showed on the display panel. Nothing I did would make the vehicle go. I stuck my head out and yelled for the Pak'ma'ra. He told me that the voice and the flashing lights were the vehicle security system - I had violated it and without the correct code, it would not start.
So, we needed a vehicle that had been in use at the time when its driver fell sick but had no occupant. Me and the Pak'ma'ra checked up and down the street quickly. We found one vehicle that had a dead Markab by it and lights on the display panel. The Pak'ma'ra said that it was in stand-by mode. I hopped in and started buckling up - I never fly without a harness on, so why would I drive without one? The fact that I have had very little experience at driving ground cars (a side effect of learning to pilot fliers when we were barely more than pouchlings) was irrelevant. The Pak'ma'ra opened the passenger door and strapped himself in, and we drove!
The vehicle was heavily computerised and would not let me go faster than the posted speed limit. It also didn't appreciate me testing out how quickly it responded to my hand on the controls if the display lights meant anything. The Pak'ma'ra said that I was being warned to be more careful and to not drive on the wrong side of the road. It had a small joystick controlling its direction and speed. It was very simple to drive. We stopped to pick up Nar'Bon, then spotted Russell walking towards us. I accelerated the car at him, just testing out a theory. At the last possible moment, a string of alarms went off and the groundcar halted abruptly, only a body width from where Russell had been before he jumped out of the way.
I thought it very funny and laughed mightily. Again, the others just did not understand my amusement. These vehicles would be nigh on impossible to damage - they would avoid collisions without need for a driver. I could do anything I wanted and still not manage to kill myself.
Then the Pak'ma'ra told me that the ground car's computer was saying that I only had 17 demerits left, and further indiscretions would cost me my licence. What licence? Still, it was possible that the vehicle would just shut down and become useless to us, so I started behaving myself.
There were food stores and a tool and camping store in Talorus. The Pak'ma'ra and I walked into the camping store - it hadn't been locked - and quickly grabbed essentials such as a cooking stove with integral fuel source and pots and sleeping sacs and so forth. It was actually quite dark inside, and I fell over some bits and pieces, as did the Pak'ma'ra, before running into the stand with the torches and lanterns on it. I then managed to blind not only myself but him with the first light I found. Then we had to use crowbars to break open the doors of the food store, one on each side levering the doors apart. We had tried to break the windows, but they were made of some form of polymer that was somewhat resistant to attack by crowbars. Once inside, we raided the shelves of tinned food and dried food and managed to salvage a little fresh food - some form of fruit, I think. The smell was pretty bad, but ignorable in our quest for good food. I also found some bottled water and took that. We didn't pay for our "purchases" - if nothing else, there was noone to pay. Anyway, the Markab had promised to provide for us, and they still were providing after their deaths.
We piled our goodies into the vehicle - it was not very big and with four beings and a load of groceries was quite full, then set out to check the airfield. The Pak'ma'ra had said that he wanted to find accommodation before it got darker, but Russell had said that that the airstrip had a hanger, and I wanted to see if there were any fliers there.
There weren't. We would have to use ground vehicles to get to a nearby city instead of flying directly to the space port, not that I knew where the space port was. Still, we would find it sooner or later - there had to be maps or nav systems somewhere. The vehicle did have a nav system, but it was limited in the information that it could give us.
We found a place to stay on the outskirts of the town. The Pak'ma'ra said that it was a motel, which is apparently where travellers stay when they have ground vehicles. We walked in the front door, collected some keys, with the help of the vehicle's headlights and then let ourselves into a room. Nowhere we had found had its own power supply, including this place-to-stay.
My new priority was food. I looked at the packaging on the tins and packets that we had and picked the most attractive pictures, then threw some in together into a pot. Unlike my last attempts at cooking, this was pretty good. It smelt wonderful, and anything with spoo in it can't really be all that bad. Whilst I cooked, the Pak'ma'ra washed and reappeared dressed in a fluffy robe that he had found somewhere. It showed off his lower legs a little more than he was used to - he kept tugging at the robe, trying to pull it down. Even he liked what I had made, despite the presence of spoo in it. Pak'ma'ra apparently don't consider spoo a delicacy. Strange race.
I ran a bath - the water was cold, but that did not worry me. The pleasure of being surrounded by so much water was incredible. I splashed around in the bath, slapping the water with my hands, and sang baby bathing songs. "The water in the bath goes splash splash splash! Splash splash splash!" Maybe the aliens would not understand what I was singing, but they would understand the sound of my chortling.
For the first time in many days, the sounds of joy filled the air.
I scrubbed my hide, removing the inground dirt and oils and peeling layers. My musculature was distressingly scrawny, and my hide hung on my body, but muscles would return given food and exercise. I had every reason to sing. My belly was full, my hide was clean and we now looked likely to reach somewhere that would eventually allow me to reach my ship, and then I could go back and see my pouchling and So'Kath and retrieve my Book of G'Quan, and life would be perfect again.
I slept on the floor. The Pak'ma'ra took one of the keys and slept in a room by himself. Nar'Bon collapsed by me and I think the Human slept in the bed. The bed was far too soft for Narnish sensibilities. The floor was rather soft too, being covered with a heavy layer of carpet, but was much better than the bed.
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