Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Forever Man - Part 1 - To Live is to Serve - Page 12

Minutes passed as he ran smoothly across the moonlit desert, the only sounds the rasp of the sands under his feet, the occasional gust of cooling wind and his own harsh breathing. He kept flickering his gaze down towards his feet, looking for the signs of the partially-buried pipe. Occasionally, he let a foot slip below the sand to touch the pipe, ensure he hadn't slipped away from its path. He changed direction a few times, as the pipe's progress shifted about.

Fifteen minutes from the oasis, he drew to a sudden halt, kicking up a small cloud of sand as he skidded and stopped. Before him, stretching across the horizon, he could see the edge of a great cliff, the sand dropping away suddenly, replaced by the dark and empty night sky. A haze billowed up around the cliff which, he realized, was the sand shifting and rolling over the edge, as water over a waterfall.

He drew closer to the sandfall, walking now, wary of weaknesses in the ground, cracks or faults which, if they failed, might cause him unnecessary pain and delay. The cliff seemed stable, though, and he reached the edge without incident.

Petros peered down. The pipe jutted out from the sand to his right, trailing loosely down the face of the cliff and re-entering the sands below. He judged the distance no more than two kilometers, a drop he could easily survive. Looking out past the edge, he saw no sign of the others, nor any clear indication of where they were going. The moonlight was starting to fade, as it did every night, and he expected to have to complete his hunt in the deep darkness. Which would, of course, make things that much more difficult.

Standing, Petros looked for an easy path down the cliff, somewhere he could slide or skid down rather than simply drop. Unfortunately, he saw none; the cliff was sufficiently sheer that, if he didn't know better, he would have thought it artificial, the work of some great machine or another. But it was nowhere near straight, the edge curving and wavering as it stretched out before him, and no machine would cut so erratically.

Bracing himself, Petros jumped lightly over the edge, making sure to clear both the pipe and the cliff's face, and plummeted to the sand below. He landed fairly lightly, dislocating his left knee and breaking a few toes, injuries which healed almost immediately.

The sands in front of him shifted and fell away, and he found himself face to face with the largest beetle he had ever seen. And it wasn't alone.

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