Someone stirred in the cabin and opened the door. The air outside was hot but bearable. The cockpit was heating up rapidly and I guessed that the cabin would too. The others were moving, but the Markab pilot was still sprawled on the floor. I didn't feel like doing anything but I had to start functioning again. I called the Pak'ma'ra into the cockpit.
"Djikiden, can you call for help? I don't know that they'll understand me. Send out a mayday or something."
Now, maybe the Pak'ma'ra is an annoying pain in the pouch, as my beloved brother would have said, but he does have some common sense. He got on the radio and found a channel that responded to his mayday - I don't know what he was saying and I am not sure that he was absolutely positive about it either, but then I can't speak a word of Markab so I am not in a position to comment. He was obviously told to change channels - he adjusted the frequency - then spoke to someone at some length. In the meantime, I looked for the emergency transponder.
There were three possibilities, but I didn't understand the symbols or language used on them. The Pak'ma'ra leaned across and punched the button on the far left. More Markab garble came through the radio and the Pak'ma'ra grunted and shut the radio down.
"They will send a rescue craft and should be here in around another four hours. They suggest that we stay with the flier - it is safer."
"Good." I unstrapped myself and left the cockpit. The Pak'ma'ra checked the Markab pilot and dragged him out of the flier. It seemed that Drathan was still alive. It also seemed that we had a while to wait, so I opened a bottle of what looked like some rather nice alcohol. It was nice, so I had another whilst sitting outside in the shade of the flier's wing.
The Human was going to have severe difficulties out here - within the hour he was showing signs of heat debilitation. We Narn were ok - we have tough hides and efficient heat exchanging mechanisms - as was the Pak'ma'ra, coming from a desert world as he does. The pilot was delirious, raving about something or other. The Pak'ma'ra was tending him, trying to get water down his throat. I contemplated killing the Markab outright - stop him suffering, and also get him out of my ears, but dismissed the thought. For all I knew, there may be a cure already found, but I thought that highly unlikely. Anyway, the Markab deserved a lingering death - through his stupidity he had marooned us out here. Why couldn't he have said that he was unwell?
The sun set - it had been a very long day, around another seven hours on top of the normally 29 hour long Markab day. The temperature dropped slowly at first, then more rapidly and we soon moved back into the flier. We still to wait for around another hour, so I had another drink and cracked open a tin of spoo that I found in the tiny galley.
So we waited. The Markab pilot was semi-lucid for a period of time. The Pak'ma'ra was talking to him, illustrating the plane crash. Then he turned to us and said "Drathan apologises. He turned the automatics off. He didn't know what he was doing."
Didn't know what he was doing? Killing the idiot seemed quite appropriate, but he didn't deserve a quick death and he surely had Drafa. Indeed, the Human was looking up information on the flier's terminal, and our pilot's symptoms looked very much like Drafa. The Markab started raving again then dropped into a quieter delirium.
I hope that I die quickly when my time comes.
Our rescue didn't arrive. About six hours after we crashed, the radio crackled into life. I left the Pak'ma'ra to deal with it. I knew what was coming, or to be more precise not coming. We had been following the news reports and it was obvious that the Markab were plagued. This was not just a few isolated cases - this was a full-blown plague. If it could jump species, which the Pak'ma'ra said was highly unlikely, then we were all dead. I had another drink, just to chase the others. I studied the stars for some time, trying to learn their patterns - never know when a spacer will have to know constellations. Also, observing the stars brings my own perceptions into some sort of focus.
One particular passage of the Book of G'Quan resonates with the path my life took after the death of Na'Tal, who still lives within me. This passage reads:
"There is a greater darkness than the one we fight" - there's that darkness again - the one that the mindwalkers and G'Quan defeated. "It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender."
But I had surrendered - all that time I spent wandering, broken despairing, Outcast...I had given up life and would have gladly welcomed death. I tempted death, I courted Death and She spurned me. Then So'Kath found me and restored the possibility of dreams to me. He gave me little Na'Kath and the hope that the future was not a desolate wasteland of broken dreams. My daughter gives me hope. She is the embodiment of life and the marvel of creation. I dream of a future for her where no Centauri remain to destroy her hopes and aspirations.
When the Centauri are gone, I do not know what will sustain my people. For so long we have lived with thought of nothing but revenge against our former gods. Once they are gone, whither Narn?
Tonight my thoughts were bleak. There being nothing else to do, I slept and slept long.
The sun had arisen and so had the Pak'ma'ra by the time I awoke. The flier pilot was dead. The Pak'ma'ra carried the body out and laid it under the fuselage of the flier. I covered it with sand. Before the sun made the dunes too hot, I performed my ritual exercises. It was good to be out in the open, but conditions would soon become unpleasant. Our promised rescue had still not occurred, and the Pak'ma'ra was trying the radio again.
The news was not good. It appeared that the only person left at the air base was someone who did the basic clerical jobs of reproducing papers and moving files. He was very apologetic, but not of much use. He played around with a map and showed us what we already knew about the area.
Noone was going to pick us up. We were going to have to walk. It took until around midday for the others to realise this. We had been following the news, and fewer and fewer Markab appeared to be capable of presenting and producing the news. Estimates of 50% of the population afflicted with Drafa rose to 70% and then there was no more news. The last bulletin was obviously written, read and broadcast by a Markab with a remote operated camera. We were watching the extinction of a people and it was not pleasant. I watched my companions for signs of Drafa - the Pak'ma'ra was certain that it could not jump from one species to another, but I was not sure.
We had already established that the closest settlement was around 100 kilometres away. Only problem was that it had been abandoned. We didn't know if there would be water or anything there. The Pak'ma'ra and I first suggested that only we go, leaving Nar'Bon and Russell behind. The thought terrified me - a hard three day trek in the hope of finding water. The hope, not the certainty. The next civilization was another 200 kilometres further on and we just didn't have enough water for anyone but the Pak'ma'ra if that was the closest source. We were going to have to take a punt. Narns love to gamble as much as any other race but not when the odds are against us.
As we planned more carefully, rationing out supplies, it became obvious to me that we could not leave Russell behind. Nar'Bon would survive easily on the amount of water left at the flier, but Russell would not. Humans are such delicate things, and Russell is not very tough. He looks like a hollow twig that will snap with the slightest breeze and has so little strength. Also, Kimmini's seeing kept haunting me. A dark place - well this was very, very light at the moment - but she had said that we had to stay together to survive. I also understood that a light place can be dark, and a dark place light - it all depends on the attitude of the heart. My heart was very dark. I am not one to believe in soothsayers and star readers, but my thoughts returned over and over to what she had told me. We had to stay together, much as the Pak'ma'ra annoyed me.
The group dynamics had changed such that whilst I was still in charge, the Pak'ma'ra was the local terrain expert. I am no fool - I understand that the desert can be dangerous at any time of the day, and that we'll need someone who understands desert survival. My specialty is space. The Pak'ma'ra knows deserts. Still, it amuses me that the others look to me and call me Captain. Captain of what? A small freighter last seen shot to bits? I keep thinking that I need one of those Earther Navy hats that were worn in their old vids. Maybe I'll demand salutes and standings to attention as well.
We made preparations as best we could. The Pak'ma'ra worked out a way to make a small still so that we could distill the fluid out of the bubbly sugar drinks. We planned to walk all night then rest during the day. We had plundered the flier's supplies and turned the emergency life raft into a tarpaulin for shelter and a number of sling-type bags for carrying water and supplies in.
I truly wondered if we would make it to the abandoned Markab settlement. I was sure that three of us were strong enough, but I was not sure about the tall skinny Human's chances. I carried more than my share - both the Pak'ma'ra and I are sturdy, whilst Nar'Bon is not young and the Human...Nar'Bon and I had to sing marching chants to keep the Human going on that first night. I have noticed that most beings have to walk in time to a beat, so I thought it might help Russell. I am not sure that Nar'Bon appreciated my beautiful harmony to his plainchant, but I thought it sounded quite fine.
The next couple of nights were hard going. I developed some form of allergy to the water sling I carried. The hide around my neck became intensely irritated to the point where my breathing as being affected. By the end of the third day of trudging through sand I was ready to weep. All I wanted was to get back to my ship and go home to Babylon 5. I was ready to curse G'Quan and the whole bedamned universe.
The fourth day of the trek was not so bad for me but my companions were wilting badly. Indeed, I felt very fit and the swelling around my neck had subsided. I kept hope in my heart and a firm grip on the metal pole that formed part of our makeshift tent. I led the motley parade across the last dune and sighted the settlement ahead. It was in a valley and built of some form of prefab huts bolted onto slabs on the stone. It was very run down - few of the buildings had roofs on them. Naturally there were no vehicles nor any form of communications devices.
Still, I found what looked like an old pump head in the middle of the town. There was an old electric motor attached to it, but after 20 or 30 years of sand blasting it was doubtful if anything would work. The Human set to work on the motor with feverish glee. He had walked all night - dawn had broken as we entered the settlement - but the promise of water renewed his energy.
The Pak'ma'ra, in the meantime, had scouted out the buildings and found one with at least half a roof. It would be our base. He also set up the still again, though we were producing little from which he could distill water.
Topping off my small triumph of finding a pumphead, Nar'Bon and I also spotted a half-buried solar array and cabling. It looked in fairly good condition - having been buried, it had not been sand blasted - and could possibly power the motor, if Russell could get it running again.
I spent the day resting and sleeping. The Pak'ma'ra and I were the most capable at this survival thing it seemed, or at least we slept the best during the hot day. Nar'Bon was very restless and Russell did not rest at all, working through the hottest part of the day in his efforts to clean the motor out and get it functional again.
Towards evening, I was awoken by a whirring sound. The motor was functional - Russell had performed a miracle with it. Now we had to test it with the pump. Only problem was that as we gathered around the machine, the sun set, taking with it the last of the solar power for the motor. We would have to wait until morning.
We ate the last of the food supplies - only half an energy bar for me and the Pak'ma'ra, and one whole one for Nar'Bon and the Human. We had about 3.5 litres of water left, and the Pak'ma'ra wanted to keep as much of that for priming the pump as he could. I had never heard that pumps have to be primed, but I was not going to dispute his wisdom in these matters. My compatriots do not understand that I am not a fool - I get a little hotheaded, yes, but I am not afraid to take instruction where necessary. I have even been known to be wrong and to have acknowledged that I was wrong. I told the Pak'ma'ra that I have very little knowledge of desert survival - my speciality is space not planets - but he doesn't tell me information without my asking first. It is very annoying to have companions who are scared of me.
We all awoke early in the morning dusk and had to wait for sunrise. Then we had to wait for some time before the solar array produced enough power to start the motor running. The Pak'ma'ra poured our remaining few litres of water down the pump. I began praying, and kept praying for some time. We heard some gurgling noises. I prayed harder. The gurgling rose further and further up the pipe until it eventually water burst out of the nozzle into the trough.
"We thank you for the gift of light. We thank you for the gift of water. We thank you for the gift of life."
The water was reddish brown at first, but that didn't matter because the Human had stuck his head under it. The water cleared and the human drank deeply of it. We weren't too worried about whether it was good drinking water. If the Human didn't complain, it must be good. We drank until we could drink no more.
Assuming that the water source was well-filled, we shouldn't have to worry about thirsting to death, only starving.
There was still a 200 or 240 km walk ahead of us, with no food, only water. Call me a pessimist, but I was rather worried about what would happen.
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