Chapter 22

Desert Planet

This story contains sex between minor boys and teen-agers. If such things
offend you, or you are not at least 18 years of age, then please don't read
on. This story is not true, but who knows, maybe some day it will be.


Alex sat in his seat shaking. He looked over at Robert Charles, who was
white. The nose of the "Moonduster" was buried in sand. The shuttle was
tilted down and to the right. Mike stumbled into the cockpit.

"Are you guys okay?"

"I think so," Alex said. Robert Charles didn't say anything. He just sat
there.

"Well, I think you need some retraining in the landing part," Mike said
with a smile.

"Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing," Alex said. "How is
everything back there?"

"Everybody is shook up. Some bruises. Matthew banged is head, I think
he's..."

Ryan came up to the door. "I think Matthew is hurt pretty bad."

Mike turned, went out and Alex got up and followed him. Robert Charles sat
there. Not knowing what to expect, the boys had put their clothes on before
the landing. Now Robert Charles was looking down at a pair of wet pants.

In the cabin Matthew was lying between seats. He was unconscious. His head
was bleeding and his leg looked strange. Scooter had a towel on his head
pressuring the wound. Alex looked sick. The last thing he wanted was
somebody hurt.

"What happened? How did he get hurt so bad?" Alex asked.

"He unhooked his seat belt when we started over the mountains and was
looking out the window," Jeremy said.

"The ship lurched and he went flying," Mike continued. "I had him and lost
him. Jeremy grabbed him and held him."

"When we started falling I started losing him," Jeremy said. "When we hit
the ground he flew up to the front."

"Why did he unbuckle?" Travis asked. "What a dumb thing to do. He keeps
buckled and in spite of everything nobody gets hurt."

"Well, it happened," Douglas said. "Now we need to see how bad it is."

Scooter had a lot of first aid training. He was always thinking between
medicine and astronomy as careers, but as much as he liked astronomy his
heart was really into medicine. He loved his first aid courses, he loved
health class and now suddenly he had to use what he learned. Matthew had
shorts on and Scooter could see that he had a broken bone in his lower leg.
The bone wasn't pushing out of the skin, but he could see it was way
off. It was the tibia, the shin bone. He wondered if the fibula, the
smaller bone was broken too. There was no way he could tell. He sent Ryan
and Travis to the galley to get splints from the first aid closet.

The walk to the galley wasn't easy since the shuttle was sitting at a bit
of a down angle. The galley was a mess, the back part open where the tail
section broke off. They could look right out into the desert and feel the
heat coming in. In fact the whole shuttle was starting to heat up. They
found the splints and brought them back.

Scooter worked to get the splints on. Matthew moaned. Mike was up on the
seats above him. "It's okay little bro, just hang on."

With help from Ryan, Scooter got the splint on the leg. He didn't know if
it would help. It needed a cast. All the splint was going to do was keep it
from getting worse. He bandaged Mathhew's head. He did about all he could
do.

"You did great, Scooter," Douglas said. "Or is it Doctor Scooter now?"

"I don't know if I helped everything. I don't know how bad his head is. I
don't know if he has internal injuries. I just don't know. I did the best I
could."

"You were awesome."

Matthew moaned and opened his eyes.


"He's awake," Mike said.

Matthew looked at Mike. "Green," he moaned.

"What?" Mike asked.

"Green...green...horsey...green..."

"What did he say?" Jim asked.

"It sounded like green horsey," Mike said.

Matthew pointed to the back of the ship, toward the mountains. "Green," he
whispered. "Green....horsey..green...it hurts." He passed out.

"There are pain killers in that kit," Scooter said. "We need to get him
some."

"It's starting to get hot in here," Travis said. They could all feel the
temperature rising. The climate control system was off. The desert heat was
heating up the ship. They all looked around at each other. They suddenly
realized they were all alone on an empty desert planet, millions of miles
from where they had left the "Starkeeper" and that their chances of being
rescued were close to nothing. They had no idea of how well their supplies
survived the crash, since they were all down below in the hold. But even if
they did, it wasn't enough to live on for more than a year or so, no matter
how careful they were. If they were going to survive, they would have to
find a way to do it on what the planet had. And it looked like the planet
had nothing.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Travis and Jeremy opened the airlock doors. The heat outside was
terrible. It had to be way over a hundred degrees. But at least the air was
fresh and the heat was rising in the cabin. Travis and Jeremy took of their
clothes and set them on a seat. If they didn't need them, why wear them
out. They would need them at some time. The outer door of the airlock was
about ten feet off the ground. Travis knew he had seen a rope ladder in a
locker in the galley. He went in there, looking again at the opening in the
back. He wondered how far the drop from there would be. He went to the
opening and looked through the jagged metal. Because the ship was nosed
down it was a long drop. Travis decided it would be easier to get out
through the airlock. He got the ladder and went back into the cabin.

They hooked the ladder up and let it drop to the ground. Now the question
was, who would be the first one to step on the planet. After all, whoever
it was would probably be the first human to ever set foot on it. They said
because of what happened on his space walk it should be Douglas. But
Douglas said no, the first person to set foot on it should be Alex. He was
the one who brought them all down safely. They all agreed to that. Alex
blushed but didn't say anything.

Robert Charles walked out. He was happy that everybody was naked. Now he
could walk out and nobody would see that he had wet his pants. He had used
the dry part of his pants to wipe himself off. He saw Scooter by Matthew
and that Matthew was hurt. He went to where most of the boys were hanging
at the open door.

"What's going on, guys?" he asked.

"Well, it's about time you came out," Alex said. "You finally get your
bladder under control?" Robert Charles glared at him and wondered how much
Alex knew. Well, it didn't make much difference because the first time Alex
was alone he was going to establish who would be running the whole show on
this planet.

"We're deciding who gets to make history and be the first person to set
foot on the planet. We all wanted Douglas, but he said it should be
Alex. We all thought that was a great idea."

"Why wasn't I asked about this?" Robert Charles asked.

"Well, we didn't see you around."

"I think as the leader of this group I should be the first one to set foot
on this fucking planet."

"I think as the asshole of this group you shouldn't set foot on it at all,"
Alex said.

Robert Charles looked at Alex. "You know something? Most people would go
kick the shit out of you right now. But I have to lead and set and example,
so I am just going to let that thing slide. Now, maybe you should just
chill out, little boy and let someone who has earned it be the first one
down."

Once again Alex stood up and looked up at Robert Charles. "You might be a
big lump of clay, but I'm older than you. And I think it shows just about
every minute of the day."

Robert Charles shook his head and walked to the open airlock. "So who is
going to argue with me being first. Other than little Mr. Bigmouth. Mr. I
Can Fly but I Can't Land, who would love being the first one."

Alex moved in on Robert Charles but Mike grabbed him.

"Alex did an awesome job getting us down here and you know it, RC," Douglas
said.

"Whatever you say, Dougie. Now, I'm going to walk down the ladder and set
foot on the planet." He walked to the opening and nobody stopped him. He
got on the ladder and climbed down. His foot touched the sand, and he
screeched and pulled it back up.

"Looks like Mr. Brightboy forgot to wear shoes. It would seem that the sand
is a little hot," Alex told Mike laughing. "Hey, RC!" he yelled, "does that
count as setting foot on the planet?"

"Get my shoes!" he bellowed.

"Get them yourself, big boy," Alex yelled back.

Robert Charles knew Alex was goading him into losing it. And he wasn't
going to let him. But he wasn't going to forget either. This was all going
to be dealt with soon. Robert Charles looked the situation on the ground
over. The shadow of the wing wasn't very far away. He stepped down again,
held his squeal in and took four steps to under the wing. The sand was
still hot there, but it didn't burn. "The water's great, guys. Come on in."

"Boy, are those words going to go down in history," Alex said.

Robert Charles hopped quickly back to the ladder and climbed back up to the
"Moonduster". "And now it's time to get ourselves organized," he said.

"That would be a good idea," Alex said. "What do you suggest first?"

"I don't know. We need to get power first I suppose."

"Stevie is already working on it," Alex said. "And Jordan and Jim are
helping him."

"I never said anything about starting," Robert Charles said. "And who put
Stevie in charge?"

"We needed to get started," Douglas said. "We need the climate control
working or we're in deep shit. And we need it fast."

"Look, Dougie. I think we better establish that I'm in charge."

"I haven't challenged that. I just thought we better quit playing around
and get things started. And Stevie knows electronics inside and
out. Jordan has been taught a lot about how the systems work by his
dad. And we've seen what Jim can do. And the temperature is climbing
quickly in here in case you haven't noticed."

Douglas knew in his heart just like everyone else that Robert Charles was a
lousy leader. But he knew that he still didn't want to be in charge and to
be responsible. And he knew they all had to work together and if he
challenged Robert Charles it could tear their group up. They didn't need
fights right now. What was going on between Alex and Robert Charles was bad
enough.

"Well, I think Jordan should be in charge," Robert Charles said.

"Yeah, like he was during the spacewalk," Alex said. "RC, he's 12 and is
having some problems. Stevie is a whiz at making things work. Jordan can
give him all the help he needs."

"You're saying that because he is your brother," Robert Charles said.

"Robert Charles, just let Stevie do it, okay?" Douglas pleaded, stepping in
for Alex. "Let him try."

"What...ever."

++++++++++++++++++++++

Stevie was doing what he loved. He had handled a lot of electronics for
their band, even when he was smaller. Now he was 13 and knew more about
electronics than a lot of college graduates. Jordan wasn't near the expert
working on things as Stevie, but he did know a lot about how the systems of
a ship or shuttle were set up. His dad had shown him a lot about
Engineering systems. Jim had a liking for science. He also knew a lot about
planets and astronomybecause of his mother.

"There should be a power chip under the control panel. It should work when
the engines are shut' down," Jordan said. "That's how we get power when
we're drifting. The chips can be recharged if they run down."

"How?"

"Solar power. There is a solar panel on the top and bottom of a shuttle."

"But what if no sun is around?" Jim asked. "How does it get charged then?"

"It can be charged by starting up a rocket too. Even a retrorocket. And it
keeps the charge for a month."

"Well, then we should be in good shape," Stevie said. "But this control
panel is a mess. It really got smashed up in the crash landing." He crawled
back under and did some looking around. He needed to get the computer going
first thing, because the computer controlled everything else. He could see
that the computer connections were knocked loose from the control panel. He
worked to get them reconnected.

While he was working Robert Charles and Alex squeezed into the cockpit.

"You mean the miracle worker isn't done yet?" Robert Charles asked.

"Man, just shut up RC or I'll kick your ass right here," Alex said.

"Tell me about it, little man," Robert Charles laughed

Stevie hooked two wires into the bottom of the panel and the computer lit
up. At the same time all the cabin lights went on. Still no fan hum though.

"Looks like the miracle worker is doing okay," Alex said with a smile. They
could hear a cheer coming from the cabin and a "way to go Stevie!"

Stevie was checking the climate control system on the computer. The
computer was telling him what was wrong. The problem was simple. It had
come unhooked from the power chip. The only question was where. Stevie and
Jim traced the circuits and found a broken circuit board. Stevie then
checked to see if there were any spare circuit boards. The computer didn't
show one of the kind he needed, just generic ones that had to be set up to
work for the area they were used. It was something an expert crewman could
do quickly, but it took Stevie almost three hours to figure it out and get
it working. It was trial and error. While he was working the cabin and
cockpit were becoming unbearably hot. Everybody was sweating rivers and
some of the boys were outside in the shade of the shuttle. Even in the
desert heat that was cooler than the hot stuffy shuttle.

Stevie had all kinds of wires and cables hooked up to the circuit
board. The board was sitting on top of the instrument panel since it would
never have to be used again. He touched the computer screen and suddenly
they heard the hum of the fans coming on full. He touched another button
so that the system would use outside air instead of the recycled air of the
life support system. Pretty soon cool fresh air was blowing through the
shuttle. The boys who were outside climbed back in and shut the air lock
hatch, cheering for Stevie and hugging and kissing him.

Stevie's next job was going to be getting the radio going.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

While Stevie had been working on getting the climate control functioning
the other boys were busy too. Scooter was trying to make Matthew
comfortable. Matthew would go unconscious and then wake up. Scooter kept a
wet cloth on his head and got his clothes off him.

"Water...thirsty....green green horsey green...horsey green..."

"What's he talking about?" Scooter asked Douglas.

"I have no clue. I just wish we could make him more comfortable. I hope
Stevie gets that A/C going."

Mike and Ryan went down to check on supplies and see what damage the crash
did there. When they got down the ladder they stepped into water.

"Shit," Mike said.

"What's going on?" Ryan asked.

"I think we have a water leak somewhere," Mike said. "There are three water
tanks down here.

The water recycles through one of them. One has drinkable water that comes
from it, and the other has water that we can't drink. I'm hoping that is
the tank that is leaking. And I'm hoping the recycling system is
working. It's part of life support, which isn't working right now."

Mike waded through the water to the tanks. The water was just over his
ankles. The deck was bent and warped. He looked at the main water tank. He
could see water flowing out of the bottom. They were losing their drinkable
water.

Mike and Ryan got empty survival bottles and started filling them with the
water leaking out. Mike was also looking for any kind of shut off
valve. He thought he read the water tank was in sections like the fuel tank
was for safety. There were no valves. Maybe they were on the life support
control panel that was on the wall. The panel was dark. There had to be a
way to close off the bottom part of the tank. The water wasn't leaking
really fast, but if they didn't get it stopped they would lose all their
water.

Travis, Brett, and Jeremy left the hot cabin and went out of the airlock
and down the ladder. They walked around the shuttle, amazed that they
survived the crash. They silently thanked Alex for getting them close
enough to the ground before the fuel ran out that it wasn't worse. Jeremy
and Travis saw where their patch blew out. They figured that probably is
what caused the shuttle to start losing control. The "Moonduster" had
gotten them this far. They wondered now where they would go from here.

As evening came they got more and more fixed. When Stevie got climate
control and life support going, Jim was able to get the bottom part of the
water tank shut off. They had lost a lot of water. Ryan and Mike saved
some, but they knew much of their supply was gone. So was some of their
food, which gotten soaked from the leaking water. Sleeping bags and
survival gear that had been on the floor had gotten soaked as well. They
carried it all up and took it out. They hung it all up on a broken wing to
dry. Some they hung out the hole in the tail section.

Mike cooked up dinner. Single helpings only. Only one of the microwaves was
damaged. It broke loose from its holder and was smashed. But there were
plenty left to cook meals for the thirteen of them.

Matthew refused to eat, and fell asleep. The rest of the boys ate, and
after dinner the whole day caught up with them. Before it even got dark
they were all sound asleep.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



The sun was up before anybody woke up. They had all been exhausted.
Scooter woke up with a start and looked at Matthew. He couldn't see him
move and got scared. Matthew was lying between the seats. Scooter was
lying across them. It was the first night since they got blasted from the
"Starkeeper" that he and Douglas hadn't slept together.

Scooter got down and put his head on Matthew's chest. He could feel his
heart thumping and feel Matthew's breath on his cheek. Scooter's heart
slowed down. His fear left him, but not his worry. Matthew's head wasn't
bleeding any more, his leg was splinted, but he just wouldn't really wake
up. When he was awake he was delirious. He kept talking about the green
horsey. Scooter wondered what he was seeing in his mind.

When everybody woke up Mike got breakfast for them. They ate in the galley
and in the cabin. Scooter tried feeding Matthew, but Matthew wouldn't wake
up to eat or drink.

After they ate Robert Charles called a meeting. It was time for them to
talk things over about what to do next. They went into the galley.
Scooter was worried about Matthew, and planned to go back to look him over
often.

"I guess we better figure out what we're going to do," Robert Charles said.
"It looks like we're going to be here for a while. We need to decide what
to do to survive. This place is going to be our home for a long time."

Brett was sniffling a little. He was worried. His dad had put two weeks
worth of allergy meds in his pack, which he had with him. They were about
to run out and he was afraid of what was going to happen when they did. He
didn't want to be on the floor next to Matthew. Plus he really was lonely
and missed his dad.

All of them were feeling the sadness of being alone and lost. All of them
wanted to feel safe again and knew it might not happen. They were all
afraid they were going to die alone on this planet. Ryan called it
Inferno, and that was what it was. The name was starting to stick. It was
boiling hot in the day, and since they all slept through the night they had
no idea what the night was like. And they were all afraid that Inferno
would be the last place they would ever see, that they would die alone
there.

"Why do we need to stay here?" Douglas asked.

"That's kind of a stupid question isn't it, Dougie?" Robert Charles asked.

"Come on, RC," Alex said. "Let's make this a meeting and get things done,
not attack time."

"Thanks, Alex," Douglas said. "But I can stand up for myself. Let's just
get things done and not argue."

"Gotcha, Douglas. Sorry." Alex smiled and Douglas and Douglas smiled
back.

Douglas looked at Robert Charles. "Because, Robert Charles, we will never
be rescued here. It will be just like when we drifted in space. We will
stay in one place and die. We have only so much water here, only so much
food, only..."

"We have climate control here. Temperatures we can live with. We know how
hot it gets in the daytime. I bet it gets plenty cold at night. We have
water here. Have you seen any water on this fucking planet? We have food
here. Have you seen any farms anywhere? A supermarket? A McDonalds? A
trace of life? Get real Douglas. There is nothing here.

"And we already listened to you about coming to this planet. That sure
doesn't look like such a bright idea now, does it? We've gone from
possible rescue, to no chance. And even you admit that."

"You want to tell him Scooter? You are the one who told me."

"Well," Scooter said. "It's the atmosphere."

"What does the atmosphere have to do with it?" Jeremy asked.

"Think about it. How do you get an atmosphere you can breathe?"

Jim slapped his head. "Of course. How could I be so stupid? I mean this
is what my mom was an expert in." He paused and shook. "I mean IS an
expert in. Sorry."

What Jim said hit everybody. Because as much as they worried about
themselves on the planet they kept forgetting that they didn't know what
had happened to the "Starkeeper."

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Robert Charles asked. "This
hellhole has an atmosphere. So what?"

"It means there has to be life here," Scooter said. "You can't have an
atmosphere like Earth does without life."

"There is no life on this planet. You saw it from space, there isn't even
any water. Your thinking is fucked Scooter."

"Chill out, Robert Charles," Douglas said. "There are two ways this planet
can get an atmosphere like this. One is a biosphere like Earth with lots
of plant life to make oxygen and animals to use it and make carbon
dioxide."

"Well, that sure isn't here," Ryan said.

"Exactly. And we all know the second. Because it is the reason we can go
live on a planet like Alpha Orion IV. It was man-made," Douglas said.

"That's even bigger bullshit than the biosphere crap for two reasons,"
Robert Charles shot back. "First, we are light years from any planet we've
put a colony on. Second, to make the whole planet like this you would need
to cover most of it with farmland and get an ocean started. I mean even I
know that. It can't be done."

"Let me answer the second one," Jim said. "Right now we need big domes on
planets like AO IV to hold the atmosphere in until we get the planet
terraformed. We've only got two planets we've settled where the domes are
completely gone. My mom was working on Mars on a way to create an
atmosphere years before the planet is terraformed. Mars never worked well
for an atmosphere because it is small and far from the sun. It's always
needed domes. But she got huge sections done where the domes weren't
needed. And AO IV was going to be the big experiment. So it can be done."

Scooter thought, Wow, I've know Jim for years and that is the longest
speech he has ever given. He was impressed and smiled at his friend.

"Which brings us right back to, your mom's system hasn't been used on a
whole planet yet, and we haven't even explored this far out," Robert
Charles said.

"You know something, Robert Charles, you're right," Douglas said.

"Huh?" The ship was quiet except for the hum of the climate control.
Robert Charles just stood there and then said, "Shit."

"Yeppers," Douglas said.

"I don't get it," Jordan said.

"Think about it," Douglas said. "If there is no biosphere like Earth, and
humans haven't come this far, and this atmosphere was created, well, who
made it?"

"Well, um, um.....oh shit," Jordan said.

"Do we all get the picture?" Douglas asked. "Do we see that maybe there
really is other intelligent life? And do we understand that they could be
our only way home? We have to find them."

"How do we know they aren't dangerous?" Travis asked.

"We don't. But we don't have any choice."

"We have the radio," Jeremy said. "The locator. It's pretty powerful.
And we can send messages. We're safe here. Like Robert Charles said, we
have food, water, and air conditioning. And besides, it's a big planet.
And we saw nothing from out in space. We don't even know where to begin
looking."

"I've been thinking about that too," Douglas said.

"God save us all from thinkers," Robert Charles said. "They are dangerous.
You just happen to have a place figured out?"

"I kind of do, yes."

"Where, up in those mountains? Aliens sitting up there staring at us right
now?"

"Maybe, but there is something to the other side of those twin peaks we
flew through."

"I suppose you saw it," Robert Charles sneered.

"No, but Matthew did."

"Fuck, I've had enough of this bullshit. Matthew has been delirious since
we landed."

"Hear him out," Alex said. "What he says makes sense."

"Scooter and I talked about it during breakfast. It's the green. Mike,
how did Matthew come unstrapped from his seat belt?"

"He was looking out the window just as we were coming close to the
mountains," Mike said. "He saw something and unbuckled to get a better
look. He was looking out the window when we lurched and he got thrown
across the aisle.

Douglas went on. "I think he saw something green. Farm land. Through
breaks in the clouds and dust."

"What about the horsey?" Jeremy asked. "He keeps saying green horsey.":

"I don't know. I mean we were too high up to see any horses. We haven't
figured it out yet."

"Well, if horsey is from his imagination, then so is green. But let's say
he did see something, Dougie, what do you say we should do?"

"Simple. Head over the mountains and find the green. If it is green then
there is water. And we lost over a third of our water yesterday. It might
be nice and cool here with the climate control going, but no matter what,
we can't live here without water."

"But don't forget the radio. They have to send some kind of signals. And
we can radio them," Jeremy said. "We can't leave here because of the
locator."

"Tell them, Stevie," Alex said.

"Tell us what?" Travis asked.

"The radio is in good shape", Stevie said. "And even if it wasn't I could
rebuild it. But the transmitting equipment is in the nose of the shuttle.
The nose is smashed. So is the transmitter. What we have can broadcast
maybe 20 miles up and around. We can be located only of somebody is right
above us. I can build a transmitter, but it would take me weeks, if I can
even find and make the parts to do it."

The galley was quiet again. Scooter got up and went back to check on
Matthew. The boys sat there quiet and teary eyed.

"What should we do, Robert Charles?" Jordan asked.

"Sit here until something happens, I guess. I suppose Douglas could go
find Matthew's imaginary green patch. Anybody volunteer for a suicide
mission?"

"We can't split up," Douglas said. "We gotta be together on this no matter
what we decide. We split up and we may never find each other again."

"What about Matthew?" Travis asked.

"We find a way to take him with us. But we can't stay here. We will end
up dying here doing nothing," Douglas said.

"So if we vote ten to two to leave, it means we stay?" Jeremy asked.

"What it means is, we don't go unless everybody goes, not matter what the
vote."

"Then let's vote," Robert Charles said. "Then we stay here."

Scooter came into the galley. "He ate a little bit."

"Did he say anything?" Alex asked.

"Same thing as always."

"See. A kid who is out if it talks about a fucking green horse, and Dougie
here wants to go trekking across the desert and mountains in 110 degree
heat. What a brilliant idea. Let's vote now," Robert Charles said again.

"I think we should vote tomorrow," Scooter said. "We need a night to think
about it. Whatever we decide it won't be easy."

"And if we decide to stay," Travis said, "we can always change out minds."

"Well, there is one more thing," Scooter said.

"What's that, my love?" Douglas looked at him with love in his heart.

"All I did was bandage up Matthew. If we don't do something for him, I
don't know if he will live much longer."

And one more time there was no noise but the fans. None of them wanted to
think of somebody dying.

"Guys, what it comes down to is this," Douglas said. "We sit here in 72
degree temperatures with nice microwaved food and fairly fresh water, and
wait for it all to run out hoping somebody will find our ship in the middle
of a desert planet. Or, we take a risk, we fight, we do something to help
ourselves, and find the farms across those mountains."

"Right," Jeremy said. "The farms that might be there. And every time
we've moved to supposedly help ourselves, we've just gotten farther and
farther away from our..our..home." Jeremy fought back the tears that he
saw were flowing down Brett's face. "I vote we stay here. If we die, we
die being comfortable, not dying of thirst and hunger and from the heat and
being miserable."

"I agree with Scooter," Jim said. "Let's vote tomorrow."

"I don't think it will change a thing," Robert Charles said. "I'll agree
though. Now you guys go wipe off the tears. For now this is home, and we
don't need to all feel sorry for ourselves. I'm going to assign jobs to
keep you babies from thinking too much. We have a long time to be here."

While he didn't agree with how Robert Charles said it, he agreed that they
needed to be kept busy. They even talked about having a guard at night,
but Stevie said since they would be keeping the airlock closed he could rig
up an alarm so nobody would have to stay awake all night. So that was his
newest job.

Douglas wasn't surprised when he was assigned to cleaning up the
"Moonduster". In fact he liked it, because he could move around the ship
dusting and picking up garbage while he talked to people about their votes.
He was totally convinced that they would have to leave their comfortable
ship and walk to the other side of the mountains. They had to fight in
order to live.

The boys spent the day quiet and busy and sad. Douglas talked to everybody
making a joke or telling them what a great job they were doing while he
went about cleaning.

Everybody worked except Matthew, who was hurt and sick, and Robert Charles
who sat in the galley writing things down and giving orders.

As soon as Douglas got his clean up job he decided he needed to find out
how everybody felt about their future plans. And he was realizing that who
was going to lead them was more important on Inferno than it was on the
"Moonduster". On the shuttle Alex was really the leader because he was the
pilot. All Robert Charles was on board was a big mouth who thought he was
leading. Now he was a big mouth pushing people around when they needed to
make some hard decisions. He was thinking maybe he was the one to do it,
but they didn't need a mutiny. They needed to be united, even if it was
behind Robert Charles.

Scooter said he agreed with Douglas. Staying here where it was comfortable
probably meant dying here. They would run out of stuff. And splitting up
the group would probably mean never finding each other again. He told
Douglas he would follow him anywhere.

Brett said he couldn't make a trip like that. He told Douglas about his
medication and that he would be too weak and sick to travel in the heat and
dust. And he said they needed a strong leader, and right now it seemed
Douglas didn't want to be it.

Jeremy said he couldn't see trekking across the desert and the mountains to
try to find something that probably wasn't there. Who knew what it was
Matthew saw. Douglas pointed out that the mountains were not that tall,
more like bare hills with tall rocky peaks. Jeremy said it still meant
climbing. He agreed they needed to stick behind one leader, and as much as
he didn't like Robert Charles, he was at least making decisions.

Mike, Alex, and Stevie were behind Douglas all the way. They needed to get
out of there. Douglas discussed a few ideas with Stevie. Stevie liked
them and said he would talk it over with Travis.

Jim was more and more sure there was some kind of life on the planet. And
life meant water. He thought Matthew did see something and they had to
trace their flight back and investigate.

Jordan said he just wanted to be left alone. And that meant staying here.
And he was behind Robert Charles all the way.

Travis wanted Douglas as leader, but wasn't sure yet what he thought about
leaving the shuttle. Ryan said he felt the same way.

Douglas already knew what Robert Charles thought. And Matthew wasn't
saying anything now, not even about green horseys.

Right now things were pretty much up in the air. Douglas called for
another meeting after dinner. Robert Charles said he was the leader and
called meetings. Douglas said then they would have a party instead.

At the "party" Douglas asked if they could put the vote off another day.
It wasn't like they were in a hurry, and he wanted to check some things out
and he needed another day for that. Robert Charles, Jordan, and Matthew
weren't there. The ten who were there voted 10-0 to put the vote off.
Robert Charles was furious when he found out what was decided. He said it
was a party, not a meeting and the vote would be tomorrow. Jim pointed out
it was hard to have a vote if nobody voted. The mutiny was starting
whether Douglas wanted it or not.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next morning Robert Charles started assigning jobs. One of the jobs
they had done the day before was get the water out of the lower deck. It
was pretty much dry now, and Robert Charles assigned Jordan, Ryan, Douglas,
and Travis to making an area for him. He said as leader he needed his own
private area to plan in. He told them what he wanted, then watched as they
cleared out an aisle area for him.

When Robert Charles talked to Alex, Stevie, Jim, and Travis, they said they
already had things planned. What they didn't say was that it was things
Douglas had asked them to do. Scooter was watching over Matthew, who would
sometimes wake up and drink some water, but still wasn't eating. Scooter
was getting very worried. Plus Brett's meds were gone and he was sitting
on a seat waiting to get sick.

Douglas did the job Robert Charles gave him because right now wasn't the
time to stand up to him. He needed Robert Charles to lay off the others,
so he went along with him - for now.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

That evening Douglas met with his group outside. After the sun went down
it was still pretty warm but much better than during the day. They sat on
a tarp that they laid out on the sand.

Stevie, Alex, Scooter, Travis, Douglas, Jim, and Mike sat and talked. They
went over the things they found out. Stevie was able to figure out their
route back a ways. They knew they had come out between the twin peaks. He
used the computer to trace them back to the middle of the mountains. From
there all he knew was they had entered from the west side. Where it was
Matthew thought he might have seen the green fields he couldn't tell. But
at least they had a direction in which to go.

Jim had grabbed Jeremy from building Robert Charles's "castle", saying he
needed a pair of strong arms. He kept him for an hour emptying out some
cases. They found three sleds that Mr. Benson had said were in a case
toward the back. Since the cases were where the tail section broke they
were damaged and so were two of the sleds. One of them Jeremy and Jim
thought they could fix using parts from the third one. It meant they had
two sleds which could carry water and food as well as Matthew strapped to a
stretcher. They had one of those. The sleds were powered by electric
motors run by power chips. With the amount of sun on the planet they
shouldn't run out of power for the sleds. Each sled had two seats and they
could take turns driving and riding on them.

They also found packs and more water bottles. Mike had saved a lot of the
leaking water in bottles, and now they had more. They found boxes to put
food in, more first aid stuff, a compass, radios to communicate with each
other and the sleds. The sleds had runners that could run through the
sand. The runners could be raised and then the sled would sit on tracks
for harder ground. Whoever invented the sleds seemed to think of
everything. The question was, how would they get the sleds out of the
lower hold. There had to be a cargo airlock somewhere. But they had never
come back this far and had never looked for it. The broken tail section
didn't have a big enough opening to get anything through.

After a lot of exploring and moving crashed containers and cases they found
the cargo lock. It was on the side tilted toward the sand. They weren't
going to be able to get it open.

Later in the day it was Travis who came up with the idea of using the space
welder to open a wider whole at the tail section. Then they could get the
sleds out that way. Problem solved.

They also found tents. There were twenty small four man tents. They
wouldn't need all of them, but they had shelter. They found adjustable
hats, winter gear, which they didn't need, sunscreen, which they did need,
and cooking gear, including four small microwaves that could run off of the
power chips in the sleds. The sleds were each about eight feet long and
built to be as light weight as possible. They had storage boxes on the
side and a flat bed. One sled could carry most of the gear the thirteen of
them would need and the other would carry Matthew and whatever else they
needed. Taking the trip wouldn't be fast, but it wouldn't be as hard as it
seemed when Douglas first came up with the idea. Even Jeremy admitted
later in the day that the idea didn't seem as crazy as it did when Douglas
first came up with it.

Scooter worried a lot about Matthew, but he knew they couldn't just let him
lie on the floor of the shuttle and die. They would have to try something.
They were all trying to convince Douglas that if needed, they should split
up the group. And they were trying to convince Douglas that he should be
the one to lead them. He was the one coming up with the ideas and giving
them important things to do that might help them survive. All Robert
Charles was doing was giving out busy work, most of it was for his own
comfort. He was already talking about having an outdoor shelter built for
him and whomever he wanted with him.

They sat there quietly saying they were ready to make a good argument for
going before the vote took place. And then they drifted to their boy
friends, Douglas making love to Scooter, Mike to Alex, and Jim to Stevie.
Before they finished Travis had brought Ryan down and joined them, giving
Ryan pleasure too. They thought about sleeping out there on the tarp, but
the eight naked boys were starting to get a little chilly. It might be
scorching hot in the daytime, but the air in the desert got cold at night.

The boys folded up the tarp and shoved it under the fuselage. It was too
heavy to carry back up the ladder. They climbed up, found a place with
their partner and fell asleep.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next morning Matthew woke up Scooter saying he was hungry. Scooter
smiled and woke up Mike to cook up some food. Mike microwaved pancakes
figuring they would digest easily. He hoped he was right. Matthew ate and
drank with help, but didn't say anything. Scooter asked him once what the
green horsey was after he finished eating, but Matthew drifted off to sleep
and didn't say anything.

Douglas went down to find Robert Charles. It was time to get things done.
He found him in his little "castle". Jordan was asleep next to him.
Douglas woke them up and Robert Charles complained, but he got up, telling
Jordan what a great girl he made. When they got up to the galley, Robert
Charles made a big deal of rubbing and kissing Jordan, who seemed to be
embarrassed by it, but didn't say anything.

After eating, Robert Charles called a meeting. It was time to vote, and it
was agreed that a secret ballot would be used. Mike had already cut up
some ballots. Twelve of them. Douglas and Robert Charles each gave their
arguments about whether they should stay or leave. Douglas reminded them
that he felt it should be everybody or nobody going. And he said that just
because they voted to go didn't mean they had to go right away. It meant
they could get ready to go, that they could be prepared. He thought
Matthew, who used to be a Boy Scout on Earth, would like that idea. Then
they voted, writing either yes, no, or abstain on the ballot. After they
voted they would drop their ballot into a box on the microwave counter.
Once again the group voted, only this election was way more important than
the one on the "Starkeeper". And there would be no cheating on this one.
Yes, meant go. No meant stay.

Scooter Yes Douglas Yes Mike Yes Robert Charles No Jordan No Jeremy Yes
Travis Yes Ryan Yes Alex Yes Brett No Stevie Yes Jim Yes

It was nine yes and three no. When the results were read Robert Charles
said it was bullshit. That they weren't going anywhere as long as he was
leader.

"Then maybe we need a new leader," Douglas said.

"Who? You?" Robert Charles asked. "The only solution you have to
problems is tears. You couldn't hack it in space when it was easy. What
makes you think you can do it now? I mean you're the guy who is cleaning
the toilets right now. At least I found the right job for you."

"RC," Alex said. "You're so full of shit. Douglas was the one who
organized the scavenger hunt. Who got Stevie to use the computer to back
track a lot of our route. Douglas has led us since we landed here. You've
been a bunch of hot air trying to see how your life could be easier. You
know why you want to stay here? Because leaving would be hot dirty work.
You'd rather die here with people kissing your ass then work up a sweat to
live. I call for an election. Tomorrow."

"It has to be settled once and for all RC. I can live with any vote. Can
you?" Douglas said.

Robert Charles told them they would all be sorry for this and went down the
metal ladder to the lower deck. It was decided they would vote after
breakfast tomorrow.

After they all split up Brett came up to Douglas.

"I voted no to going. I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Brett. You have to vote the way you feel is right."

"I just wanted to say that if we go it's okay. I'll go. I voted no
because I'm afraid of being too weak and sick."

Douglas said, "I think you will be very strong. And don't worry, we will
look out for you. How do you feel now?"

"I feel fine.. I haven't missed my meds yet."

Douglas kissed him on the lips and asked him if he could help sort out
things they would need if they decided to go. Brett smiled and went
downstairs.

It was now becoming not "if" they would leave the shuttle, but "when" they
would. Douglas's being prepared changed the vote from what it would have
been. The extra day to get prepared helped. Douglas was confident he
would beat Robert Charles in tomorrow's election. He was not confident
that he could do the job. But if he was elected he was prepared to do
everything he could to somehow get them to the green area safely. He just
hoped what he did was good enough.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++


That evening the boys were all outside after the sun set. Inferno had
three small moons. They could see two of them, one full and one a
crescent. The sky was full of twinkling stars, and they even saw a few
meteors streaking across the sky. They all were out there naked, all of
them but Matthew who slept the whole day after having breakfast.

The boys started wandering in as it cooled down. After a while only Alex,
Robert Charles, Douglas, Stevie, and Mike were left. Stevie motioned to
Douglas and Mike to go up the ladder. They understood and climbed up, with
Stevie following them. Now it was just Alex and Robert Charles. They both
stood there looking up at the night sky. Finally Robert Charles looked at
Alex.

"A little nervous because your friends went up and left you? Well, little
boy, you're pretty quiet. You usually have some smart ass comment. A
little nervous because your friends went up and left you all alone with me?
Because let me tell you something, asshole. We're gonna settle things
tonight. Tonight I'm going to make you pay for all the shit you've said to
me. I've been waiting for this for a long time. After tonight there will
be no doubt who has the power here and who will keep leading. Because you
will end up doing everything I tell you to do. Don't expect your buddies
to help, because they won't. They all went up that ladder scared and they
aren't coming back." Robert Charles brought himself up close to Alex and
looked down at him.

Alex looked back with a bored look. He was tired of Robert Charles's
bullshit. He knew Robert Charles was looking at him wanting him to give
him an answer. Well, here is your answer, RC, Alex thought. Alex cocked
his arm and slugged Robert Charles hard in the gut.

"That was for me, asshole."

"You cheated," Robert Charles croaked. "I wasn't ready."

Before he could do anything else, Alex slammed him again, and Robert
Charles doubled over from the pain. "That one is for Ryan on Mars."

Alex brought his foot up and kicked the doubled over Robert Charles in the
gut. "That was for Matthew in the elevator."

Robert Charles was staggering. Alex pulled him up some and hammered him
again. "That was for molesting Matthew."

Then Alex brought his fists up doubled and raised them hard hitting Robert
Charles in the bottom of the jaw. Robert Charles stumbled backwards.
"That was for Stevie."

That brought Robert Charles up enough that his belly was exposed again and
Alex rammed his fist into it. "That is for cheating on the election and
working to make Douglas and everybody else miserable, and for just being an
asshole."

Robert Charles groaned and leaned over and puked into the sand. Alex got
behind him and kicked him so he landed in his own puke. Then Alex rubbed
his face in it. "That's another one for me and for thinking your shit
doesn't stink."

Alex rolled Robert Charles on his back and kicked him in the balls.
"That's for making guys build your fucking castle when you could've been
making things better for everybody."

Then Alex stood over him and started peeing. He peed up Robert Charles's
belly and to his chest, then with his full stream hit him in the face and
hair. "That's just to remind you how I will vote tomorrow. Don't talk to
me about your fucking power, because after tomorrow you won't have shit."
Then he spit on Robert Charles and walked up the ladder into the cabin.
Robert Charles watched Alex with hate filled eyes.

Next: Chapter 23 Into the Inferno

Constructive comments are welcome. E-mail me at TheHakaanen@Hotmail.com.
Douglas DD

 

 

 

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