To go WALKABOUT was an old Australian description for an extended journey on foot through that country alone and living off the land to experience the indigenous way of life. “Most people would tell you not to attempt crossing the desert but you seem to be fine and were making good time. Where did you find the robe?”
“Maggie, she said wearing an aged hooded robe I would easily blend in with the landscape. No one at the settlements we’ve gone across suspect that I’m not desert dwellers.”
Over the next dune was a camp that spread out across the desert as far as the eye could see. In the middle were a huge tent and a blazing campfire.
“Is he rich or something?” Matt said astonished.
No one at the settlement suspected that they were anyone other than another pair of desert dwellers looking for a place to rest for the fast approaching night. The old man had currency to purchase what turned out to be a delicious meal of snake meat and bread. They found a well with fresh water to go with their meal. A stable with beautiful Arabian Stallions caught Matt’s eye. At first, the keeper was suspicious but Matt impressed him with his knowledge of breeding techniques used back on Earth. So much so, they offered to share their camp for the night.
With his eyes, ever watchful Omar spotted the two as they entered the camp. He hurried to greet them before any of the unsavory members tried to shake them down.
“My friend Peters, how good to see you,” His expression changed as he wondered if they were coming in from the west. “How did you get here?” He asked puzzled. “You have no horse, no camel?”
“Through the desert,” Omar shook his head. “Men a third your age could not do this.” Then he turned to Matt. “A stranger no doubt?”
Matt used his voice translator implant to understand the conversations in Arabic. Seeing his host was apparently feeling no pain he figured he might get useful information. THE NIGHT IS BEAUTIFUL AND YOUR CAMP IS AMAZING. He said in Arabic.
Omar’s face turned serious. “I don’t remember seeing you before yet you speak our language?”
“Yes, I picked it up while in the Outlands.”
“I see,” After a moment, his look softened. “Forgive me for not properly introducing myself. I’m Omar Serif Wadjd Kadin Hadi.”
“You are a friend of Peters?” He repeated.
“Yes I am. He’s showing me around.”
“Then you are welcome in Asim’s camp. Just know I have a great deal of respect for this old man so just the fact that you two were traveling together is enough to grant you a safe place to sleep. Stay close to him.” Omar danced off into the crowd, but made sure, with a glance that Matt knew he had an eye on him.
Maggie Amen couldn’t help but think about the future. She was dressed casually in simple shorts and a t-shirt, her firm body noticeable beneath the clothing. How could a worn out 50-year-old woman ever create a life for herself.
Lorne had been hanging around her all that evening, safe from the Khad, she figured he didn’t know what to do. He stole glimpses as she did things around her lodging; her red hair pulled back into a ponytail, which Lorne always thought was sexy.
“You were ardent as usual today.” She said encouragingly, squeezing on his left arm as she spoke. She smiled and stroked the top of his head. “It was so crucial.”
“That was okay, but I wish you would talk to me.”
“I don’t understand? We are talking.”
“You take me for granted. The fact is you always have.”
“Oh, no Lorne never.” she reassured him. She intended to deliver a kiss to his forehead but he anticipated her move and redirected the kiss to his lips. When she made a move to pull away he grabbed her arms. A puzzled expression glazed over her face. His hands reached up and cupped Maggie’s face holding her as his lips pressed harder against hers. Finally, after a struggle she broke free. “Why did you do that?” Maggie yelled in a harsher tone than she intended.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He began to weep.
The emotions swirled within her as she considered what had just happened. Looking back, this had probably been coming for some time. She had treated him as an adult in every other respect except one, sexually. He was a man now and apparently, he wanted her. Maggie contemplated her response thoughtfully. “You’re always welcome here, Lorne. You know that. But I’m your mother; I’m not what you want me to be.”
“But you’re not my mother. She died. What you are is a beautiful, strong woman and I love you,” he pressed against her.
“Lorne please, you know I can’t do this. Can we change the subject; I’m very uncomfortable with this one.”
Lorne too was uncertain of his future. The woman who had raised him was also the one he loved. Lorne driven by the rage in his belly hurried from her quarters. Even though he had to swallow the bitter pill of rejection, at least he knew where he stood. He didn’t know where to go but he knew he couldn’t stay there.
With the arrival of the Earth crew had there was much for him to do. He would go home to the outlands and help them get ready for the upheaval that was surely coming. Maybe he could help them establish a new government. It took him less than an hour to gather his belonging. He headed out a back entrance so no one would see him go. He felt strangely free for the first time in his life.
Meanwhile Maggie had tears rolling down her face as she ran to the entrance of the main cave. She thought for sure Lorne would think things over and return to her to talk it out some more. She never thought that he would just leave.
She had denied the one person who she was so devoted to. The one thing he desired and the very thing she was in complete control of to grant him she choose not to. He was gone. Now it was too late. She knew Lorne would not be coming back.
OLD MAN PETER’S
The last person the rebel base expected to see was Old man Peters especially after the falling out between Maggie and him. Still there he was. He said nothing as he made his way through the cave and to over to where Matt and Lorne sat upon rocks looking out over the desert plain. The old man puffed on his smoke.
“That thing stinks.” Stewart said waving the air.
The old man took another drag of his smelly cigar and smiled. “I roll my own,”
Matt pulled out a fresh cigar from his jacket pocket and handed it to the old man. “Name’s Matt Stewart,”
“I know who you are. News travels fast.” His eyes lit up. “Cheroot Majuro,” He asked.
“The only thing I smoke. I see you know your cigars.”
“I haven’t had a good cigar in years.”
“I’ll get you a box of them. I’m looking for any help I can get with the Khad. What can you tell me?”
“Young Lorne here is the one to talk to if you want to learn about the Khad, if you want the lay of the land that would be me, Peters the name.” The old man told Matt.
Lorne stepped in. “The Rebel uprisings have sparked increasing dissent which has spread throughout the regions.” The thin but handsome young man sat down next to Matt. “Though the miners can own their land most of the desert population is landless. The desert dwellers have had enough. It’s not uncommon for groups of discontented dwellers to try to seize the land they have been cultivating.”
“How do they decide who controls what?”
“There are seven main clans known by their house. The House of Alban, House of Beckerman, House of Amen, House of Vermont, House of Kapoor, House of Elazar, and House of Basrilian and the Khad controlled the elders and the elders maintained their authority. Many young groups are no longer influenced by their elders, realizing they would never own a substantial piece of land, have either joined the rebels or migrated to the desert and the outlands where the control over families has begun to erode.” Lorne added. “At no time since the original upraising has there been more unrest.”
“The crew of the Lewis and Clark were executed. The Khad have used marriage between the most influential houses to keep the colony in line.”
“Jihan,” Matt said.
The old man jumped from his seat. “How do you know Jihan?”
“You know of Jihan and her marriage to Sean Basrilian?”
“We’ve never met. I’m not sure how I know of her?”
“The prophecy,” Peters said. “You know of it too?”
“You guys really believe in this prophecy stuff?”
“Personally, yes I do.” Now the Old man was smiling. “Listen carefully. What you need is to go WALKABOUT.”
Matt turned to the old man. “Walkabout, you mean male Australian Aborigines rite of passage.”
“A good Walkabout has a way of answering all questions.”
“Maybe I’ll take you up on your offer old man.”
“Good, let’s go Walkabout.”
“Wait a minute. I need to get back to my ship.”
“In two days Jihan will be married in the Central Village.”
“Draw me a map; I think I’ll attend.” Matt should have immediately contacted Horizon but he had a gut feeling. “I suspect all humans look alike to lizards.”
NO CHILDREN OUT HERE
Matt quickly assembled his staff. He ordered Allison and Tatiana to search for Samantha in the shuttle from above but to avoid detection. Sending Sadia, Mike and Dr. Deforest out in teams in different directions with hand held scanners; he set out on his own over the range toward the rocky coast.
Matt had picked up a trail. He knew it was organic and from the indication small in stature. The signal caused him some doubt because it was moving in a direction that took a roundabout path. This was not a person trying to hurry their way to the cave hideout. Still it was his best lead and he wanted to locate it before dark.
Once over a rugged ridge he found a picturesque lagoon that was even more breathtaking as the sun was going down and the massive gas giant loomed in the sky. The trail was well worn and lead down to the water. Matt looked around but saw no one. He was about to move on to another location when the stream rippled. He stared for several moments, something was moving just beneath the surface of the water. Suddenly out spewed a beautiful redheaded.
There she stood in lovely nude splendor. Her wet hair spread across her face as she stretched up feeling the warmth of the sunlight on her body. She flexed tight as she stood on her tiptoes trying to get closer to the sun. When she shook her hair away from her eyes, she realized she was not alone even so she didn’t attempt to cover herself. “Well Hello there!”
“Excuse me.” Matt said turning his back to her. “I didn’t mean to intrude upon you like this.” Sammie began to walk out of the water towards him.
“So, who are you?” She said walking up behind him.
“I’m Matt Stewart, your mother and the others are looking for you.” She tried to walk around to face him but Matt kept turning away. “And they are all worried about you.”
“Oh really,” Sammie didn’t seem concerned. “Well as you can see I’m just fine.”
Matt rolled his eyes. She finally was in Matt’s view and he covered his eyes with his hand. “That’s for sure.”
“Is something wrong?”
“I’m a gentleman.”
“Suit yourself MR. GENTLEMAN. I’m dressing now.”
Matt glanced through his fingers as Sammie walked towards the large rock to get her clothes. LORD HAVE MERCY
“They should have captured mother and the others by now.” Sammie realized something had gone wrong. “Where is my mother?”
“Back at the cave; Home Base.”
“What? She wasn’t captured by the Khad patrols?”
“No, we managed to intervene in time. It’s a good thing too or she and her group would have been slaughtered.”
“Intervened, slaughtered, who are you?”
“Major Matt Stewart, we just arrived from Earth.”
“That’s not possible.” She laughed. “How did you get here?”
“By space ship, it’s in orbit around the planet right now.”
Sammie did not intend to believe him when the shuttle swooped down to make a landing on the sand. Frightened by the massive machine she took refuge behind Matt.
“Don’t worry they’re on our side.” He assured her.
Matt kept his suspicions to himself as he watched the reunion of mother and daughter Maggie was obviously a loving mother. That wasn’t quite the case with Sammie.
MORE IMPORTANT THINGS
Omar was more anxious than usual. Whenever Asim said “let’s talk,” he knew it meant trouble. The look on Asim’s face only reinforced his apprehension. “Have you made up your mind yet?”
“That’s why you are here. I need your advice.”
“You ask for advice. You’re a damn fool. That’s my advice.”
“Is that your advice?”
“Yes, yes, it is. We both know how important Jihan is to you.” Omar was sure he was over the line.
“I wish it was that simple my brother.”
“The problem is the Khad are deep up your ass.”
Asim’s face filled with rage but he said nothing.
“What about the rebels?”
“The rebels? They are all but finished.”
“Your informant? They came through?”
“Yes, far better than even I thought.”
“Well my brother I can see no other choice.”
“Will you deliver the news for me after I have departed?”
“I won’t be attending the Basrilian’s affair.”
“That’s right you’d rather see your princess dance one last time. Should be quite a show.”
Asim said nothing more as he rode away.
THE WRATH OF ALEXA
Alexa Basrilian was angry and her pacing back and forth only made the guards even more nervous. Everyone was aware that Asim had stood her up he was the one person on the planet who’d have the audacity to do it. Sean Basrilian entered the room with his usual smirk. “They’re taking bets down in the stables.” Sean plopped himself down on a comfy lounge chair and put his feet up. “The grounds crew says Lord Asim left early on horseback.”
“He was seen with your wrench too.”
“That’s because she’s a damn slut’” Sean had a hint of legitimate disgust in his voice. “I only want her talents.”
“Idiot, No one does this to me.”
“Asim, He sure did.”
“Guards,” Alexa said calling out the door. “Have my horse readied. And tell my ladies to take my riding clothes out.”
“You’re not going after him, are you?” Sean said laughing.
“This is the third time he’s rejected my invitation.”
“Maybe he’s trying to tell you something?”
“I know exactly where he is going.” She said.
“This is unusual even for you. You won’t get within 50 feet of their camp.” Sean laughed good and hardy.
“Shut the hell up brother!” She fumed knowing she had failed again to get hold of Asim. If she couldn’t control Asim maybe she would have no choice but to kill him. In her present condition, such a thing was well within reason.
NO PURPOSE SIMILAR TO OURS
Matt hardly slept but his exhausted crewmates sure did. Up early he scurried about the camp. He noticed that Maggie was nowhere to be found. Always the mission on his mind He had more than a few questions he needed answered. Matt found the adjacent cave empty but past it was an opening that led out into a beautiful gorge. He walked down a well-established path some distance until he reached a waterfall.
The waterfall rose above the edge of a trough, where a stream or river flowing continued to flow into the valley. There Maggie stood in the wet stream of water naked staring out into the distance. He cleared his throat loudly and she realized he was there. She ducked into the heavy bushes and smiled embarrassed. “That’s close enough. This is usually my private area.”
“Forgive me; I didn’t realize you were indisposed.”
“It’s okay please come closer.” He stood behind a bush.
“This waterfall is incredible. This would be a Class 10 Waterfall back on Earth.” Matt said surprising Maggie with his knowledge on the subject.
“I see you know your waterfalls.” Maggie laughed. “We call her Antlers. She gets the name from her shape. This one flows where two rivers joined downstream. The falls stand about 50 meters high and it gets its water from the melting snow.”
“The Lord sure makes some beautiful worlds.”
“Lord?” Maggie questioned. “You believe in God, Major?”
“Of cause, we’re here, aren’t we?” Matt said.
“With us left to suffer for years.” Maggie chided.
“Be glad we still have an Earth.”
“We almost lost her.” Matt realized word of the war would not have reached them here. “There was a war, but you had no way of knowing that.”
“There’s always some war on Earth.” Maggie answered surly.
“This one was against another planet, the Taurus Empire.”
Maggie looked startled as if she had been awakened with cold water in the face. She stepped into the open wet and shivering. “I must tell the others!” Maggie stopped bright red threw a shirt over herself. “You’re obviously being very kind.”
Matt smiled a boyish grin. After a moment, Maggie had tears running down her face. “it looks like we made off far better than our brethren on Earth.” Maggie finished getting dressed grabbed Matt by the hand and led him back to the main cave where everyone had gathered.
A young man yelled. “Maggie Come quickly!”
“What’s going on?”
“Sam is missing!”
“Sam?” Matt wanted to know.
“My daughter Samantha,” Maggie said.
“How long has she been missing?”
A group of young girls stepped forward. “She was supposed to meet us before sundown but she never showed.”
“Don’t worry Maggie we’ll find her.” Lorne said.
“We have environment trackers on the shuttle.”
“Excellent, oh thank you so much Major.”
Matt could see the frown form on Lorne’s face.