March 18, 2019

Free Fiction Friday: The Hunt For Beagle Part 5

Here it ’tis; this week’s installment of our young adult Mars-spanning adventure. We’ve got lots more original science fiction available over on our Amazon author page!

 

The Hunt for Beagle

by

David A. Dickinson

Part 5

Andrea was amazed how clear the sky was, out from under the Saganopolis dome. The entire trail of the Milky Way could be seen, mottled with blackened scars. Earth was just off in the direction that the Sun had set, and squinting, Andrea could once again just pick out its solitary Moon. We all came from that improbable point in the sky, Andrea marveled. She tried hard to think of a place without pressure domes and air scrubbers. A place where they could walk free under the stars…but the thought made her dizzy. She wondered if they would ever go there.

“The gravity’s a crush,” Zeke said off handedly. “Off-worlders would find themselves breathless there. And then there’s the parasites we didn’t bring with us when we colonized…I’ll stay put right here on good ol’ Mars.”

“I’m going, one day,” Andrea said, lying back with her arms behind her head. “I’m going to travel to all the worlds out to the Kuiper belt as a neuro-correspondent. And I want to see what they call a beach.”

“Oh, and then there’s the increased UV as you move closer to the Sun… not good for the Martian complexion. If you want to see the solar system, a space pirate’s another good option.”

Andrea rolled closer to him. She could feel his body heat, and his pulse quicken. “Know if they’re hiring?”

“Judging the way you used that flare pistol, you’d be a shoe-in.”

Nervous, Zeke pointed overhead. Deimos drifted speedily by.

“Look, a Martian moon passing overhead means good luck, right?”

“For you, maybe…” Andrea pulled him close and kissed him.

“Why did you do that?”

“Because you wouldn’t…”

 

Andrea was jarred violently out of sleep.

“What the….” She said, still in a fog.

The Sun hadn’t even risen. Zeke was shaking her.

“We’ve got company… T.I.N.A.’s sentry mode went off. She thinks its Scavengers, about 10 klicks out.”

Andrea bolted upright. “Scavengers? They’re not real! They’re bogeymen, something parents tell their kids when they want them to stay away from drill-pits…”

Zeke began to prep the tent for deflation. “They’re very real, and out there right now,” Zeke continued.  “We’ve got to roll. We may have to abandon the tent and T.I.N.A.’s mobile ’bot if she doesn’t check back in.”

As they started engines, a visual from T.I.N.A. provided the worst. Men (or half-men, in some instances) in non-descript uniform approached the camp site. Some looked to be Legion deserters, others simply scammers or outlaws. These men lived at the fringes of colonial society, eking out an existence by stealing parts and reselling them. And out in the open desert, they might not be above outright robbery…

The engines sputtered twice before jumping to life. Zeke pulled them out as fast as he dared with the treads deployed, running a sand sweeper behind them to keep from kicking up dust that would give them away. A tiny remote camera on T.I.N.A.’s mobile unit revealed the approaching crew before going silent: three Scavengers on tri-wheeled sand-bikes. Zeke knew the large Creeper couldn’t outrun them if they took to pursuit. He also knew that the sweeper wouldn’t entirely cover their tracks…but he hoped that leaving them the camp and T.I.N.A.’s mobile unit to pick over would give them enough time to make tracks.

Andrea took up position in the observation dome and scanned the terrain ahead with infra-goggles. They were coming up to the lowlands, the great division that spilt the terrain of Mars.

“There’s a large crevasse about a klick ahead,” She called out.

Zeke veered and slowed down sharply. “We can just make it,” he called out, almost out of breath. “Let’s see which way our friends go.”

The crawler just slid into the narrow crevasse without scrapping the sides. With muted anticipation, they both watched as the Scavengers dismantled the camp and T.I.N.A. “I’ll get you another scout, girl,” Zeke whispered, stroking the comm. console. “Look,” Andrea whispered in fascination, “One of them is a girl!”

“Or what’s left of her,” Zeke said, zooming in. The screen showed multiple cybernetic implants.

“I didn’t know that that might be a career option…”

An alarm blared. They both jumped. “We’ve been scanned. They’ve deployed an aerial scout!”

Andrea looked up through the dome to see a brief contrail disappear through the opening in the rock overhead. Zeke was already gunning the controls.

They had now descended the zigzag of rocks down to the lowland floor. Zeke rotated the axels around to their trail tires to pickup speed, although he knew he shouldn’t run them on open terrain for very long. Andrea now saw three lines of dust kicking up behind them, columns that were swiftly gaining on them.

“I’m going to jettison some cargo to entertain them. Stand by for aft depressurization!” Zeke called out on the comm. “Glad you give a gal some warning,” she shot back, lowering her face breather. She only had an abbreviated undersuit on. It’s gonna get cold in here…

She felt the air whoosh by as the back ramp lowered down to its middle position. Several cargo modules slid out. I hope we didn’t need any of that… Andrea saw the desert floor slide by frightenly close. She clipped herself into the frame. Two of the dust columns bearing down on them stopped to inspect the discarded bounty. Zeke hoped they didn’t find it worthwhile to venture after them into the open lowlands.

“It worked…” Andrea called over the comm.

Suddenly, the entire cab lurched like a drunken sailor. Andrea held on as she was nearly ejected. A shot jarred the entire crawler.

“Shit…” Zeke crackled over the comm. “We lost our dish!” Andrea swiveled to see one of the cycles pulling up fast.

“It appears we didn’t shake them all…” It’s the girl! Breathing hard through her face mask, Andrea could see the scavenger girl pulling up hard. She focused on her double braids hanging out of her helmet and almost missed the pulse launcher in her left hand. Andrea knew from the first shot, she had meant to disable them. She could destroy the crawler if she had to, but she obviously wanted it intact. But as for Zeke and Andrea…

Andrea gulped hard as she fumbled for the slug gun she had grabbed off of the Legion Patrol. She had never fired a gun before, and the Crawler and the desert was bucking hard. She wasn’t even sure if the safety was off as she pointed and squeezed… Sorry, gal…

Her hand jumped so hard she nearly dropped the pistol. She saw the figure veer momentarily, then vanish in a pile of dust. Andrea was glad once again that she had clipped herself in. In few seconds later a pulse zipped by, wide by a mile.

Andrea stepped in the cab, putting her hand over Zeke’s on the throttle. “Ease off, hon. We shook ‘em!”

Zeke’s grasp was like iron. He looked and Andrea brandishing the pistol, then straight in the eye.

“Did you…”

“I don’t think so,” She cut him off. “She shot back. I didn’t hit her that hard. I think she might have thought we were Legion or Revolutionaries or something.”

“Girl, won’t you have some what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation stories for Monday!” Zeke exclaimed. “Girl gunslinger takes on the Legion! Takes on the Scavengers! What’s your next act…”

Andrea plopped into the Navigator’s seat. “Just drive, mining monkey, or we won’t live to tell the tale.”

They both laughed as the crawler sped across the lowlands.

…to be continued…

Read The Hunt for Beagle in its entirety.

 

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Free Fiction Friday: The Hunt For Beagle Part 5 google_ad_client = "pub-0102381063656584"; google_ad_width = 336; google_ad_height = 280; google_ad_format = "336x280_as"; google_ad_type = "text_image"; google_color_border = "#FFFFFF"; google_color_bg = "#FFFFFF"; google_color_link = "#ff1500"; google_color_text = "#000000"; google_color_url = "#0012f5"; google_ui_features = "rc:6"; [...]

Speak Your Mind

*