41) Boots and Orange

On the wounded planet of forgetfulness called Miraba, it was night. Boots was so weak he couldn’t cry anymore. He was up a tree covered with black tarry mud. A pack of vicious dogs had nearly killed him, so up he went. It appeared to be the only tree left standing for miles. He was in shock and wanted to sleep but he had to grip the branch tightly to avoid falling when the wind blew.  Across the dark lake, every now and then, he’d briefly catch sight of an orange light. Soldiers in protective suits patrolled the shores firing puncture blasters down into the water whenever a flash of orange appeared. One of them walked around the edge tossing explosives into the water. The concussions almost knocked Boots out of the tree every time they went off. The particle beam weapons fired occasionally, hoping to hit an invisible ship in fourth density. Boots could always tell they were about to fire because his nose would detect an unusual smell a few microns before they slashed across the sky. Of course Boots didn’t know why, but it was because of the ionization of the atmosphere produced by the carrier wave for the weapon itself. It was always sent out slightly before the particle beam to zero in on any target in third density. Ordinarily the weapons wouldn’t fire until target aquisition but the gun crews had turned that feature off because they were hoping to hit an invisible fourth density ship which the carrier wave could not detect.

When Boots smelled that smell, he would grip the tree tighter in nervous anticipation hoping that a stray beam wouldn’t suddenly end his life. They weren’t as jarring as the explosives, because they weren’t hitting anything, but the stress was wearing him out.

He knew Orange was still functioning because occasionally the droid would contact him through his psychic sensors. Orange was pinned down and trying hard to avoid being shot. Evidently he had found underwater caves in which to hide but everytime he tried to come out, they’d spot the orange light and open fire.

The black rain had come several times and Boots knew he’d been poisoned. His head was spinning, he was sick all over and about to pass out. He knew if he did it was all over, so somehow he hung on and stayed awake.

Third density was so heavy. He felt as if he weighed more than his muscles could carry. Somehow, he’d managed to get up this tree. It was a matter of climb or be eaten – so climb he did. He was more of a hole-going-in cat than a tree-cat but the instinct to survive and the good fortune of a tree left standing, drove him to altitude. Now, he was too weak to come back down nor even move very much. All he could do was cling. Hope was almost gone. Inside, he moaned for Pheledra. He had felt her mind and knew she wasn’t killed in the crash but she was far away and could not come to him. All he could do was fight to stay alive.

When the recon saucer crashed, he had been thrown clear. It exploded in fire. He had tried to go back and find someone but the flames singed off his whiskers and nearly caught him on fire. He panicked and ran headlong into a snarling pack of dogs. He barely escaped. His heart ached for Nelyani and Biltar. He liked them – and now they were almost certainly dead.

He dreamed of home – dry food was his thing. Would he ever eat again? Would he ever feel warmth again? Pain didn’t frighten him anymore. Death wasn’t even a thought. His only regret was losing the touch of love. How he yearned to curl up next to Inky and Ginger or play with that little girl, Nel, his new friend. Most of all, he would give anything to be cradled in Pheledra’s arms and feel her soft kiss against his brow. For the hope of those things, he fought to stay alive but everything was getting dimmer and dimmer.

He was about to let go and finally fall into the void when he heard a hum. A light was coming up the tree! It looked funny – not like anything he’d ever seen. When it grew near, an arm popped out and grabbed him. It was Orange! Boots couldn’t see him clearly because the droid was covered with black mud. Boots relaxed into his grip as the droid whisked him out of the tree and flew for cover underneath a pile of rubble. Shots rang out and the branches splintered off the tree where he’d just been.

“Hi Boots,” said Orange, “tonight is not a good time to die.”

CONTINUE ON TO 42: CLEAR DIRECTIONS

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