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Chavenlink, Quorta III
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"Deserter"
Part Two

By Lyla Toomney

Scorching sun burned down out of the sky, turning liquid to vapor, soil to dust. Relentless winds whipped the dusty ground into the air, forcing travelers to cover their faces and seek shelter. But, not all travelers of this wasteland have the option of seeking shelter.

Staggering through the unforgiving sunglare, a lean, sand-bleached figure struggled to keep his legs under him. His chitious wings were blistered from heat, hanging limply behind his body. Short blond hair fell in a dismal, dismayed tangle around his worn features, features weatherbeaten and creased from squinting into the sun.

Could that be a town? Dare I hope? Dare I call for help...no, it couldn't be a town. Not in this hope-forsaken wasteland. Just a mirage. Only the millionth. Tonny sighed miserablly, felt his legs quiver, his wings beg for water. The sun seemed to grow more intense, as if sensing victory was at hand...this travler would soon join the macabre collection of bleached bones and brittle remains in the house of the sun. Tonny closed his eyes in agony and loosed the unearthly, final, despair-filled howl that was the trademark of his species. It's over. I'm going to die.


A chillingly familiar howl drifted into PeaceKeeper Headquarters, Chavenlink, Quorta III. It meandered through the halls, into the seldom-used lounge, the abandoned mess hall, the empty offices and desolate crew quarters. A dustrat looked up and chittered nervously before scampering off again. In its haste, it scuttled over the one thing it had been avoiding its entire life here in the abandoned compound: Cejay.

The pile of dust and sand shifted violently, lurched up and pounced on the fleeing sandrat with claws of granite and fangs of diamond. The Stonecat smiled viciously as he pinned the sandrat against the dusty floor with one claw and watched it struggle. "Now, my little appetizer..." he chuckled viciously, then reached down and neatly chomped the rodent's head off. Once he was done with his tiny meal, the Stonecat sat up and started to wash his claws comfortably with his sandpaper-like tongue. Again, the eerie howl echoed through the compound and Cejay felt his thin, pelt prickle. "I don't want to know," he decided firmly, lashing his long tail, curling up in a heap again and glancing around for the dustrat's mate.

A stiff gust of wind whipped in through the sagging compound doors, bringing with it the stench of high noon, scorched sand and...the scent of something else. Cejay's head came up off his paws and he glared at the ceiling. "I said I didn't want to know," he announced, apparently speaking to some divine influence. "Stupid 'ckrof," he muttered as he stood up on his hind legs and padded for the door. "Musta crashed somewhere."


Tonny could feel his life ebbing away. He lay in the sand, feeling the wind swirling more dust over his parched body. Before nightfall, he'd be just another dust dune. I wonder what it's like to die, he thought bleakly. The words to an old Rramackrof song drifted through his mind and he started to mumble the words: "Arim k'ali arim...Shint k'rali snakla...arim k'ali arim...Tak vim ali arim cafay..." Blood of my blood, shine of my claws, blood of my blood, give thanks you are of my blood.


"Tak vim ali arim cafay..."

Cejay's head snapped up at the sound of the Rramackrof words. "Hello?" he shouted in spacer. "Anyone there?" There was no answer, save the whispering of the wind. The Stonecat growled under his breath and continued searching. When he bounded over a small dune, something made him trip and he sprawled on his face with a pungent curse. He glared over his shoulder and blinked.

A single chitinous wing poked out of the sand.

With a startled cry, Cejay pounced on the dune and began to dig. "'ckrof pilot...Central'd have my head if I'd lost him..." After a few seconds of frenzied digging, Cejay found himself facing the limp, barely alive form of a Rramackrof pilot. The pilot blinked weakly against the viciously bright light and Cejay grinned before scooping him up and loping back to the compound.

He scrambled through the abandoned compound until he found the door to the lower level, drifts of sand and dust scuttling out of his path as he swung the door open. Cejay skittered down the dusty stairs and burst into the wide basement of the compound. Here, the sickbay and storage was mostly insulated from the heat and dust. Mostly. Some of the old sickbay equipment was demolished from dust in the delicate inner workings.

The Stonecat spread his burden on one of the sickbay beds and ran into the medistorage for anything that might help dehydration, exhaustion and exposure in Rramackrof.


Dim light flickered on Tonny's eyelids. The subtle smell of underground reached his nostrils and a sharper smell of medicine and old sterilization washed over him quickly. He gagged.

Something snorted in surprise and he could hear the sound of claws on tile coming toward him. He tried to open his eyes, but they refused to open, crusted shut with sand. "Low fakni ali?" he demanded in a weak voice. Who are you? His captor snuffled, then replied in a language Tonny didn't know. He struggled to understand, catching bits of spacer mixed in with the rest of the gibberish. Suddenly, he realize he was being held 'hostage' by a Stonecat, one of the PeaceKeepers that was in charge of the Chavenlink base. Only a Stonecat would mangle spacer this badly. He managed to grin, then began to laugh hysterically in relief, much to the Stonecat's concern.

"Wuz zoo foonni?" the Stonecat warbled, his tone worried.

"I'm in Chavenlink," Tonny replied, his voice cracking from hysteria and dryness. "I'm in Chavenlink..."

"Yu hain't azz loost azz I thoought yu wuzz," the Stonecat chuckled. "I'm Cejay. Whoo izz yu?"

"Water..."

"Yu izz water?"

Tonny sighed in frustration. "Can I have some water, please?"

"Oh," the Stonecat sounded embarrassed. "Right."

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