Shortly after sunrise the next morning I was slicing the air at top speed, heading due south. I'd left as early as possible, first making sure to refill my water bottles from a nearby stream, because ahead loomed the equator and the most inhospitable regions on Deshtiris. I also checked an indicator on my flier's panel, which showed that the vehicle was continually sending out a location signal. I didn't seriously expect that Will or Kiri would send someone after me; it would have been a serious breach of privacy to have done so and I wasn't a fugitive. But if something did happen they would at least know where to look.
Below I saw the landscape grow more and more barren as I approached the equator. There were vast desert areas that appeared to have been covered by scrub vegetation at one time, now utterly lifeless from lack of water. Even at the altitude I was at the heat was pretty intense, and I drew the windscreen overhead so I wouldn't wind up seared by the sun. Soon I ended up shedding all but my cutoffs and boots and guzzling as much water as I dared.
The windscreen, by the way, is made of the same shape-shifting diamond as the Futaba's hull, and can extrude itself to whatever is the optimum shape (calculated on the fly) for the speed and altitude being traveled. It also has the ability to screen out the harmful components of Exor's* rays if desired, making travel a lot easier on the eyes as well as the skin. Today I appreciated the technology behind it immeasurably.
Will has already told you about the boots here: made of a porous leather-like synthetic material, they let your feet breathe while still providing protection and support. When Kiri and I visited Earth a few years ago I couldn't resist buying a pair of Dallas-style cowboy boots. After an hour or so of wearing them my feet were so miserably hot and sweaty that I relegated them to my bookshelf as a souvenir and haven't worn them since. How Earth's residents can stand the footwear they inflict on themselves remains an impenetrable mystery to me.
Just when I thought things couldn't get any more disagreeable, the land below disappeared behind me as I began the eight-hundred mile crossing of the Sea of Doom. So-called because it straddles the equator almost exactly and constituted an indescribable ordeal for the mariners who originally crossed it in sailboats, it lived up to its name all too well. Instead of the hot, dry blazing heat of the desert I was now bathed in a hot, muggy atmosphere so humid I couldn't tell where the air left off and my sweat began. Rather than soak the flier's seat, I laid out a blanket in the back of the flier and stretched out for the duration, the vehicle set on automatic. I was profoundly grateful when the alarm I had previously set sounded, and sure enough off in the distance I could see the thin edge of an approaching shoreline. Soon I was crossing more hot, dry desert, which seemed almost balmy compared to the sweltering horror I had just left.
It was late afternoon before the fierce heat finally began to abate somewhat and I again began to see vegetation of sorts below. I knew, however, that in another hour I'd be entering a region of considerably higher elevation, and so I enjoyed a fabulous pink, gold and green sunset (caused to a great extent by all the particulate junk in the air) as I took advantage of every bit of usable daylight that I could. It was with no little relief that I finally located a reasonable place to land again just as it was growing dangerously dark, for traveling off marked roadways at night in a flier is for the foolhardy, not the faint-hearted. I had seen no sign of lights in any direction before I descended, so I landed without further ado and made my second night's camp.
This time I was so exhausted by the day's ordeal that I was asleep almost as soon as I hit the sleeping pad. Unlike the previous night, I slept soundly this time the entire night through, waking only when nature made an insistent call an hour or so before dawn. By that time it was almost cool, and I pulled a light covering over me as I gratefully settled back in for a few hours of dozing, somnolently enjoying the daybreak sounds of the awakening forest.
As I slowly began gathering my wits about me, I realized that I was finally beginning to enjoy my self-designated vacation. Deshti seemed very far away as I watched a brilliantly plumaged red and yellow bird busily upholstering its nest. They'll get along just fine without me for a little while, I thought, and I felt a little thrill of excitement. Today I would be arriving at my destination.
In the morning I flew over one of the few populated areas intersecting my route. It wasn't a giant metropolis like Deshti, but it was a good-sized city of several hundred thousand inhabitants from the looks of it. Several rail lines headed off in various directions, and for at least a hundred miles or more in each direction the land was broken into neatly-defined farms and, here and there, small crossroads villages.
It was early afternoon when I finally left the populated areas behind and reached my objective, a region of solid forest extending for several million square miles. There had of course been expeditions into this area, but due to its sheer size they had barely scratched the surface of this magnificent wilderness. Hoping for some excitement I steered the little flier towards one of the largest untouched areas.
For several more hours I continued, looking for something worth investigating. Below me stretched a green canopy of forest in all directions as far as the eye could see. Several times I crossed a broad, brilliantly blue river, with huge trees growing almost to its banks, making it seem as though it were flowing through a green-walled canyon several hundred feet deep. In the distance the foothills of a mountain range were visible through the slight haze. I also noted with satisfaction that there was little or no sign of damage from acid rain; apparently this area was far enough from the polluted weather patterns to be relatively unaffected. Here and there a small break showed through the otherwise endless green, and it was while I was passing over one such clearing that I saw several figures, apparently human.
Curious, I reduced my speed and looped around for a better look, descending to just a few dozen feet above treetop level. A moment later I passed over the border of the clearing, which due to the great height of the trees was still well over two hundred feet below. I saw a pair of figures, carrying what looked like swords, looking up at me. Then one of the two raised what I had taken for a sword, placing the hilt against his shoulder and pointing the "blade" directly at me.
The Twin Planets may be relatively civilized compared to yours, but I'd still seen enough Earth television to recognize a rifle, especially after our experience back in Fontana. Suddenly fighting a knot in my stomach I tilted the flier upwards just as I saw a flash at the barrel of the rifle. That I was too late was clear a moment later as I felt an impact at the rear of the little craft.
My memory of what happened next is rather hazy. Apparently the motor exploded, hurling me from the flier, as I vaguely recall spinning through space and seeing the treetops approaching with dizzying speed. Instinctively I tried to shield my head with my arms. For a moment there was a pandemonium of whipping leaves and branches, and then my head must have struck something because I remembered nothing more.
* Exor is Deshtiris' sun. - Ed.
THE THREE MINDS. Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2001 Lamont Downs. All rights
reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
otherwise, without written permission from the author,
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|