CHAPTER 25

Mountains of the Sun

by Douglas DD


Mike wiped up Douglas's face the best he could and Douglas returned the
favor.

Mike looked at Douglas. "We need you more than ever now, buddy. Be strong."

They still looked a mess but then so did everybody else. They walked over a
small dune to the sleds and the boys. Douglas stood in front of them. He
heard Scooter in his head. Be strong my love. Be strong.

"We've all looked. We can't find the tent or Matthew." He took a deep
breath. "We have to keep going."

"Looks like some people weren't doing their job," Jordan said. Scooter
turned and looked at Jordan. It looked like the old Jordan was returning.
But then he was getting pretty attached to Matthew, Scooter thought. It
didn't surprise him when tears started dripping down Jordan's cheeks.
Scooter noticed he had tears dripping down his own cheeks as well.

"Jordan, a lot of people can blame themselves for what happened. Everybody
thought somebody else was taking care of Matthew. We all know how terrible
it was last night. But there is only one person to blame and that's me. It's
up to me to make sure everybody is taken care of. So don't blame anybody
else," Douglas said.

Robert Charles stood there with his arms folded and a small smile on his
face. He was the only one not fighting tears. He was hoping Douglas would
make the offer to change leaders. Knowing how weak he was inside that would
be his chance to make a power push. But all Douglas said was, "Let's load
the sleds and go."

Douglas had almost said just what Robert Charles was thinking. But at the
last minute he didn't. He could see that everybody was hurting. And he
thought of what Scooter and Mike both said. Be strong. Right now they needed
him strong. They were all very lost and hurting, and if he called for a new
leader and showed he was weak they would all turn to somebody who was strong
even if they hated his guts. He looked at Robert Charles with his arms
folded and a smirk on his face. I won't let that happen, Douglas thought. It
was almost like Robert Charles was there to make him stronger.

"I want to try to make the mountains by dark. Scooter will give out a water
bottle for each empty bottle from yesterday up to three. The bottles we
marked specially for Matthew will be kept as spares in case of an emergency.
It won't change how many bottles we get. That's it I guess. Let's go in the
next 15 minutes." Matthew had special bottles set aside for him with spouts
he could suck on. Plus he got four bottles if he needed them, but it looked
like he only did the day before since they had almost been emptied. Scooter
had put two more in his pack last night, but they were lost now.

The sleds were started up. Douglas was driving one with Scooter next to him.
Jeremy was driving the other with Travis at his side. They started off
towards the mountains, sad because they were leaving Matthew behind. Douglas
started his sled toward the mountains. He wanted to drive so he wouldn't
have to think too much about what happened. He stared straight ahead at the
mountains wondering what would happen when they got there. All they knew was
to head for the twin peaks. The question was, how
would they get up and around them. They had to head there, and then head
west, and if Stevie and Scooter were right they would end up seeing whatever
green Matthew had seen. It had to be small. Alex never saw it from the
cockpit, but there was a lot of dust and clouds in that area. So the
question was, once they headed west where would it be? They had to find it
or water fast. He wondered if Matthew's horsey was a clue. He had no idea.
All he knew was, they had to keep going, even if it meant leaving Matthew
behind. Matthew was dead. Now he had to make sure he kept the rest of them
alive.

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

The red tent was covered by the dune. A metal pole kept part of the top up,
leaving room for air. Inside the tent a boy moved inside his sleeping bag.
It was dark. The boy's head hurt, his leg hurt, but his stomach was feeling
better. He was thirsty. He wondered where everybody went. He felt for his
pack and found it about a foot away. He reached in to get some water. He was
so thirsty. He felt three bottles there. He pulled one out. It was empty. He
pulled the other out. Empty. The third one was half full. He took a big
swallow.

He needed to get out and find the rest of them. He tried finding the tent
door. Everywhere he reached seemed to be covered. He pushed at the top. It
wouldn't give. More sand. He lay on his back and let the tears flow. He
sobbed and shook. He didn't know what was outside, or where everybody went.
But it looked like he was buried under the sand with less than half a bottle
of water. All he could do was wait until his friends and his brother came
back.

He stood up part way on his good leg and pushed at the top again. It gave a
little, but pain shot through him from his broken leg. He fell back down and
passed out.

The sun beat down on the sand. After being pushed up, a patch of red was
showing above the sand, held up by the thin metal poles. The sleds were
already five miles to the South.

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

"How much do you think about the 'Starkeeper'? About what happened to it?"
Douglas asked Scooter.

"A lot. I miss my dad."

"I know. I miss my mom and dad a lot. I miss being comfortable. And safe.
And having enough to eat and drink. Scooter, if we ever get out of this I
will treat every swallow of water and every bite of food like it was gold."

"I love you, Douglas. You're doing an awesome job."

"I lost Matthew. He trusted me and I lost him. I'm not losing anybody else,
Scooter, I swear."

Scooter leaned over and kissed Douglas's cheek. Douglas turned and kissed
Scooter on the mouth, a loving deep kiss. Short but sweet. He went back to
driving the sled through the hot sand.

"You know what was weird?" Douglas asked.

"What?"

"The lower school kids. Where were they?"

"What do you mean?"

"Scooter, between the time we got to the shuttle and the time I closed that
door they had time to get down the corridor. I can see Mr. Z and the girls
not making it, because his office is farther away then their classroom.
Somebody should have been coming down the corridor."

"Maybe they got caught by the fire coming down the corridor."

"That's what I'm afraid of. I didn't really know any of them. Most of them
were too young to hang around the games room. They hung around the little
kids room because it was better supervised. None of us big kids there to
bully them." He looked at Scooter with love in his eyes. Scooter gave all of
his love back and then some.

"Did you ever talk to any of them? I mean like at dinner or anything? I know
sometimes a couple of the older boys would come to the games room before
dinner. Twins. They were cute too."

"I know who you mean," Scooter said. "They were around 9 or 10 I think. I
said hi a couple of times."

"Yeah. Sometimes they even looked sexy." Another smile. Douglas was feeling
relaxed talking with Scooter. Being with Scooter did that to him. He
wondered what he would do without his sweet lover next to him.

Mike and Robert Charles were two of the boys sitting in the back of one of
the sleds. They both had their hats. The sun was beating on them hard. Their
faces had thick sun screen on. They were trying hard not to look at each
other or talk to each other. Mike wanted water badly, but like everybody
else he was waiting for Douglas to drink. Robert Charles, though, pulled a
bottle out of his pack and took a swig. Robert Charles always seemed to have
water. If he didn't know better he would say Robert Charles was stealing it,
but Scooter and Ryan counted the bottles at every stop to be sure, and none
was missing.
Even the good kids might be tempted to take one, and nobody trusted Robert
Charles. Mike thought Jordan might not be so trustworthy now either.

Finally, Robert Charles looked at Mike. "I don't understand you," he said so
everybody could hear.

Mike just sat staring off to the side of the sled. Robert Charles kept on
talking. "You punch out two guys who didn't do a thing to you. You try to
sabotage us. I bet you're stealing water. And you fool everybody into
thinking you're somebody special. Now you're the enforcer for out fearless
leader. What a joke."

Mike knew Robert Charles was trying to get him mad. He said nothing but he
could feel his face flush. "And he trusts you. Until you turn on him like
you have on everyone. At least I'm honest. You're a phony and a fake."
Robert Charles had a big evil grin on his face.

Mike turned on him. "Come on, Mikey. I'm ready for you. Let's see what you
can do. Let's see you go after somebody you can't sucker punch. You and your
buddy Alex are both alike. You could never stand up in a fair fight."

Mike couldn't stand it any more. "Maybe we should stop right here and have
it out, RC. See who between us is all mouth."

"I'm ready if you are. Let's go, Mike."

Mike yelled at Douglas to stop. Douglas stopped the sled and looked back
around.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing, except it's time for me and him to have it out," Mike said
pointing to Robert Charles.

Douglas stared at them. Both of them were getting up to jump off of the
sled. "No! We don't have time for this crap. Mike, why don't you go over and
relieve Jeremy. Have Alex sit with you."

Mike glared at Robert Charles. "This isn't over."

"I'm not going anywhere," Robert Charles said. "Any time you're ready."

Douglas had Travis relieve him. Ryan sat up with him. Douglas and Scooter
got into the back and sat down. Douglas was going to say something to Robert
Charles, but even in the heat all the things that had happened the last
night caught up with him and he fell asleep.

The day dragged on, hot and dusty. But they could all tell that they were
climbing now, and by dinner time they had reached the hills. They were ready
to climb toward the twin peaks. Douglas decided that it could wait until
tomorrow. They were all exhausted and it was time to stop and rest. They
were so tired that even though a few of them thought about some quick sex,
they were all asleep as soon as they crawled into their sleeping bags.


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

The next morning they started the climb. If they thought that it was going
to get a lot cooler in the mountains, they were wrong. The sun was still hot
and it was still dry. But the sleds were slow climbing up the dusty hills.
Around noon they had reached the base of the twin peaks. Except for two
possible paths everything was straight up all around them. One path went up
between the peaks, and the other went around them to the West. The question
now was, which way should they go? Douglas figured they had five days water
left at three bottles a day, not including this day. A little over seven
days at two bottles a day. And at one bottle a day it jumped up to fifteen
days. He didn't know if they could live
off a bottle a day. But tomorrow it was down to two bottles a day.

But now they had to figure out which way to go. Douglas realized they
couldn't afford to make a mistake. So he decided to make two teams to go
scout each trail. They had a little over eight hours of daylight left. Each
team would travel until dark, sleep overnight, and then come back. If they
found the trail was a dead-end they could start back earlier. If they were
both dead-ends, then they were sunk. They would have to turn back to the
bottom of this hill and find another trail. If the teams left at four in the
morning coming back, they would be back by noon. The whole thing would cost
them a day, and if they were
lucky they would find a way around this part of the mountains.

Douglas wanted the biggest, strongest boys to go, with two exceptions. He
would lead one of the teams,
and Robert Charles would stay behind. He and Mike would make one team. Alex
and Jeremy would be the other. Each boy on a team would take a ration of two
meals and four bottles of water. He put Scooter in charge of the group
staying behind.

Before he left he took Robert Charles aside. "If you fuck with anybody you
will answer to me when we get back."

"You could have put me in charge, you know," Robert Charles said.

"Maybe by following Scooter here you might show me you can be trusted,"
Douglas said. Douglas didn't trust Robert Charles to be on a team, and he
didn't trust him leaving him behind. But he was so hot and thirsty and
hungry he couldn't think of what else to do. He sent Robert Charles off and
Alex, Douglas, and Scooter came up to him.

"Douglas, let him come with me," Alex said, "he won't fuck with me. And he
won't be alone with the little ones."

"I'm leaving Travis here. He's not as big as Robert Charles, but he can hold
his own. And Scooter won't take any shit as far as who is in charge."

"Ok. You're the boss. But I think we are all better off if he is on a team."

"Maybe so." Douglas's head ached. Alex was probably right. But Robert
Charles could screw up a team in some way, and that could hurt the group
more than he could hurt it staying behind. Nobody could turn their back on
him. They needed to give all of their attention to scouting. He felt Robert
Charles could do the least damage staying behind. Unfortunately, thinking
that was Douglas's biggest mistake of the trek.

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

The black unicorn was having some trouble with the loose sand. His rider had
a lot of skill though and kept him going at a pretty good pace. He had come
over the mountains to see how the air was here so far from the farms and the
atmosphere machinery. It was still a little short on oxygen, but it was
getting better. He had checked the three stations they had in the desert. He
wished they still had their flyers, but the last ones were used only for
emergencies. They needed every kind of part they could use to keep the
atmosphere machinery going. Maybe someday they would be discovered again,
but it was twenty-five
years since a starship had last visited here. He had been a boy of eight
then.

The unicorn's black hair glowed in the sun, and the reflection made it seem
almost green at times. He rode over a dune and looked at the Mountains of
the Sun up ahead of him. Three more days riding and he would be home. He
could hardly wait. He stopped to get a drink of water. Off to his right he
thought he saw something. It was a small patch of bright red. He closed his
water bottle and rode over to see what it
was. He couldn't begin to imagine what could be here in the middle of the
desert. When he got there he saw that it looked like cloth or plastic of
some sort.

He got off the unicorn and got his shovel off of the saddle. He needed it
because sometimes he had to dig out the monitoring stations. He started
digging, and saw that it was a buried tent of some sort. He hit the metal
supports. Finally he got it uncovered and saw that it had an opening. He
pulled up the closed zipper and looked inside. He was stunned to see a small
creature in a sleeping bag. It looked like a humanoid. The hair on its head
was messed up. Its face was white and its lips were all chapped and cracked.
It was a humanoid but looked so different from himself. He started getting
excited and curious.
Did this mean there was other intelligent life on the planet? Why hadn't
they seen it before? And if it wasn't from here, how did it get here? The
humanoid looked like a small child, if they were anything like his own
species. Intelligent life! And they had been told they were the only ones in
all the galaxy.

He bent down to inspect the small creature more closely. The movement woke
Matthew up. He opened his eyes, and blinked at the bright light coming into
the tent. He was having the strangest dream. A man with pointed ears and a
mane of fine golden hair down his neck was looking at him. And outside in
the sun, was something. He looked at the dream creature in front of him,
opened his mouth, pointed outside of the tent, and croaked out, "Green
horsey."

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

The two teams were packed and ready to go. Four bottles of water, cold food
for two meals, a sleeping bag in each pack. The sleds were parked below
where the trails split. They weren't really trails, they were more like
paths that the sleds could go on. But for how far nobody knew. It could be
just around the next corner and that was all. It was flat where the sleds
were parked, and then the trail went up and around a large rock. After the
turn was where the split was.

Before leaving Mike cooked up lunch. Douglas and Scooter sat with Brett and
Jeremy. At the end of lunch, Scooter saw Douglas having a long talk with
Brett. Brett nodded and said a little back. Douglas did most of the talking.
Brett just nodded and never smiled. After they were finished, Douglas
rejoined Scooter.

"What was that about?" Scooter asked.

"Oh, I just wanted to know how he was feeling. How his allergies and asthma
were doing without his meds."

"And?"

"He says okay. But he's worried about it. He hasn't been breathing real
well."

Scooter sensed that Douglas wasn't being totally honest with him. He decided
not to push it, but it hurt some that Douglas couldn't trust him with what
happened. He sent a thought to Douglas. I love you. That was the best he
could do.

The whole group walked up the trail to say good-bye to the scout teams. At
the place the trails divided they paused. Scooter walked up to Douglas and
gave him a deep kiss. Be careful my sweetums. I'm worried about you. Please
come back safe.

I will my love. And don't worry. It will be a walk in the park.

"I love you, Douglas."

"I love you, Scooter."

Mike and Alex were both going. But they were going to be on separate scout
teams. They weren't quite sure why Douglas had split them up, but they
decided not to argue it. They would be back together in a day. Mike gave
Alex a deep loving kiss.

"Want to make a bet, Mike?"

"I suppose. What it is?"

"That I will find the trail that leads to the other side."

"You're on. What are we betting?"

Alex gave Mike a sexy grin and held his crotch.

"You're on," Mike said with a smile. The whole group of boys laughed, their
first laughter since losing Matthew. Scooter looked at Douglas. He was
smiling, and that was his first smile since they left the "Moonduster".

Jeremy looked for Brett in the group, but he wasn't there. He felt his heart
sink. Brett didn't even bother to tell him good-bye. He must have been
feeling too tired to make the climb, but he could have at least said
good-bye. He was just turning to start the walk with Alex when he heard a
voice calling his name. He turned around and saw Brett come from around the
rock, walking slowly and breathing hard.

"I'm sorry, Jeremy. My asthma is starting to really bother me up here in the
mountains." He was struggling hard to breathe. "But I had to be here to tell
you good-bye."

Jeremy walked over to Brett, grabbed him hard and kissed him deep. "I love
you, Brett, my dear little love. You're awesome."

Brett was struggling to breathe. The short climb up had been hard on him.
Douglas came down and kissed his lips.

"You didn't have to do that."

"I know. But Jeremy needed it just like the rest of you." He was struggling
to talk.

Douglas turned to the group. "Scooter is in charge. Just don't leave the
area of the sleds. We'll all be back by noon tomorrow."

The teams headed off on their separate trails. Before disappearing they
turned to wave one last time. The boys in the group waved back. Just as they
disappeared, Brett fainted and fell to the ground.

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

Douglas and Mike walked along the narrow rocky trail. It was wide enough for
the sleds to go on, but barely. It would take some good driving. And Douglas
wasn't sure if the trailer could make some of the turns. They might have to
leave it behind if it kept going like this. The sled with the trailer would
have to be last in case they had to unhook it.

"You took a big gamble leaving Robert Charles there," Mike said.

"I know. He can't do to much in a day. I think he can hurt us more on the
trail. I don't trust him. I don't want to have to guard my back the whole
time."

"I hope you're right," Mike said.

"So do I."

Mike was thinking of all kinds of Robert Charles could do while they were
gone. The four boys who could control him were all on a scout team. Mike
agreed with Alex. Doug was making a big mistake. And the thing that worried
them the most was Robert Charles taking the sleds and leaving. He decided
not to worry Douglas about that. It probably wouldn't happen. Scooter and
Travis would keep things under control. He was worrying too much. But that
was something he was good at; worrying. He and Douglas kept walking along
the hot dusty rocky trail.

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

Alex and Jeremy's trail was a little wider, but not much. It wasn't quite as
steep so far, but they didn't know that. They talked less than Mike and
Douglas. Alex told Jeremy how great it was of Brett to come up the hill to
tell him good-bye.

"I thought I missed him," Jeremy said. "He is pretty special. I don't know
why I fell for him. I just thought he was hot from the first time I saw him.
Turns out he is super nice and caring too." Jeremy smiled. "And he's getting
pretty good in bed too.. Hard to figure that, him being so little and quiet
and all."

"You got the little guy. I got the big guy," Alex said.

They walked a while longer. After a couple of hours they stopped to rest and
have a drink of water.

"I hope things are going okay with the group," Alex said. "I don't know if
those guys can control Robert Charles."

"What can he do?" Jeremy asked. "There is one of him against seven."

"Maybe two of them. Who knows what Jordan is thinking, especially now that
Matthew is gone." Alex had a hard time saying dead. Gone sounded better in
his mind.

"Douglas screwed up then didn't he. I'm beginning to think sometimes that as
much as we like him we were wrong to make him leader. It should have been
you. I even think Robert Charles, just because he is strong. Like you are."

Alex looked at Jeremy. "No offense, Jeremy, but that's bullshit. We both
know Douglas has one thing going for him as a leader that I don't have and
Robert Charles for sure doesn't have."

"What's that?" Jeremy asked, kind of stunned by Alex's outburst.

"People want to follow him. He has what it takes to lead without even
trying. And once he finds inside him what we all know is there he will be a
stronger leader than I could ever be. RC has to push people around to lead.
He thinks its all power. RC is a bully, not a leader. Douglas has gotten us
a lot farther than any of us thought."

"Yeah. I'm sorry. It's just RC seems so in charge sometimes, no matter
what."

"That's how he works. Makes a lot of noise. Gets noticed. But when it's all
over he didn't do anything but push his weight around."

They got up from their rest and kept climbing up the trail. It was too hot
and they were too tired and thirsty to talk any more.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ >>


Scooter checked on Brett. He was breathing hard, but his eyes opened.

"What happened?" he whispered.

"You fainted. I guess the walk was a bit much for you." Scooter helped Brett
to his feet and Travis and Ryan helped him walk back down the trail.

The boys walked down the trail back to the sleds. They got out the tents for
shelter. The fans Stevie had made had all been lost in dust storm. They had
the two tents that they had tied between the sleds plus the two spares. But
at least they were out of the hot sun.

After they set up the tents, Scooter got them together and started talking
about them being rested up and ready to go as soon as the scout teams got
back. He also told them what Douglas has said. That their water ration would
be cut to two bottles tomorrow.

"That's bullshit," Jordan said.

"We don't know how long it's going to take us to get there. Douglas says we
can't use up all our water. This will add three more days. We might have to
cut back more."

No," Robert Charles said. "That's not going to happen. We stay with our
ration of three until we get back to the shuttle."

"Um...we're not going back to the shuttle," Scooter said.

"Yes, we are. This bullshit has gone on long enough. We're going back. Your
precious Douglas is leading us to our deaths. He doesn't know what he is
doing. He doesn't know where he is going. His scouting trip shows how
desperate he is. Looking for some fucking green horsey that a delirious
little boy saw? Give me a break."

"There is nothing at the shuttle," Travis said. "Nothing to go back to. At
least across the mountains there is a chance there is something. At the
shuttle we sit and die."

"I'm with Robert Charles," Jordan said. "Let's go back."

"You know when they get back they will want to keep going," Scooter said.
"They will never want to turn back. Douglas wouldn't allow it."

"Who said we were waiting until they got back?" Robert Charles.

"What? You're going to leave? Leave them stranded here?"

"No, stupid. I won't do that. Not that I wouldn't mind doing that, but I
don't operate that way. We'll leave a sled and some water behind. Now let's
pack up and get going."

"We're not leaving," Scooter said. "I won't go without Douglas."

"Then you can stay here and wait if you want to. But we are leaving."

"Who put you in charge?" Travis asked. "I thought I heard Scooter was put in
charge. I'm staying with Scooter."

"I'm going with Robert Charles," Brett said. "I'm too tired and sick to keep
going."

"Brett. No. We'll take care of you," Scooter said. "You know we love you."

"I don't want to be the next Matthew," Brett said. His lips were quivering.
"I'm sorry, Scooter." He climbed up into the sled.

Jordan followed him in, but they didn't sit close together.

"Anybody else plan on being smart?" Robert Charles asked.

"What about Jeremy?" Scooter asked. "You'll be leaving him behind."

"I know," Brett said with a slight sob.

Robert Charles looked at the sun and at the steep path going back down the
mountain. He knew they would need daylight to make it down. They had about
three hours left and they still needed to eat.

"We're not leaving until sunrise. We need light to get down the slope. And
we are all going."

"I don't think so," Scooter said.

"Let me put it this way. I've got Brett and Jordan. And if you don't follow
me I will leave one sled behind. But I will take the power chip and all the
water and leave it at the rock at the bottom of the trail. With a note of
course. That would be what? A four or five hour walk? With no water. Then
they have to walk back up. A lot of wasted time and water."

"That's plain mean, RC."

"No. It's for you own good. Scooter, you just don't get it do you? You're so
blinded by your love for you faggot boyfriend. He is leading you to your
death. Who did he take with him? Mike. Who has assaulted two of you and who
tried to sabotage what Douglas was doing. Mike who is very sick. Did you
ever think that maybe Mike might just be coming back alone? That Douglas
will meet a bad end up the trail? I want to leave everything for them. Then
they can decide if they want to go back and join us or continue this dumb
mission, by themselves. Or, with just the three of them if what I suspect is
true."

For a moment Scooter believed. His mind saw black. Robert Charles was right.
Douglas was in danger.
They were all in danger. They were trusting the wrong people. He took a deep
breath. My sweetness. I
love you. I need you.

He heard nothing back. I love you. I need you. Still nothing. He didn't know
how far his thoughts would go. Maybe Douglas was too far off. He needed
help. He wasn't sure what to do.

"I'm doing this for you. It's time you see I'm not doing this for myself.
It's just you guys are following the wrong people, because you like them not
because they're your best leaders. If you want to survive, it's time to
follow somebody who knows what he's doing. Douglas has lost one of person
already. Who is going to be the next one?" He looked straight at Brett when
he said that. "Or will it be all of you?"

Scooter took a deep breath. "You all can go. We have to protect Douglas.
I'll stay to tell him what happened."

"I know you love him, Scooter. But it has to be all of us. Douglas left you.
He left us. Don't forget that. He left you behind."

"He left me in charge."

"Not any more." Robert Charles took a deep drink of water. Where is he
getting that water? Scooter thought. It was time to find out. Tonight.
Something wasn't right. They all were dry with thirst, but Robert Charles
always had water.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Night was close when Mike and Douglas reached the end of the trail they were
on. There was no question that it was a dead end. Tall rock cliffs rose up
all around them.

"Shit," Douglas said.

Mike gave him a hug. "It's okay. All it means is Alex won the bet. He found
our way over the hills instead."

"I sure am one hell of a leader. I take us into sand storms. Into dead ends.
I let the youngest boy who needed me die. I leave him buried in the sand
because I can't take the time to look for him. Mike, I gotta give this up
when we get back. Every time I think I can do this, something happens to
knock me down and show me I can't."

"You know what I see, Douglas?"

"What?"

"I see somebody who bounces up and fights every time he gets knocked down.
It's like Alex says. You need to see the things inside you the rest of us
see. The rest of us keep seeing you fight. You got us here. You'll get us
all the way."

"I'm 14 years old. I don't know how...."

Mike grabbed Douglas hard and pulled him towards him. He stared down at him
with a strange fire in his eyes. Suddenly Douglas's heart started thumping.
For a second he thought he was looking at the Mike who everybody said had
attacked Ryan and Matthew.

"Douglas!" Mike squeezed him hard. His eyes and face and voice were intense.
"You have something in you that makes us want to follow you. Since we met
you, you've shown us all a special confidence and strength. You have helped
every one of us. You believed in each of us and in yourself. Now you have to
dig deep and find him again. Because he is there, we have all seen him. When
we get back we will need you like never before. The only way you can fail us
is if you quit believing in yourself."

"I helped Matthew a lot. I let him be buried alive under the sand."

"I loved Matthew, Douglas. I made him my little brother. I should have been
looking after him. Scooter should have thought of him. Jordan had been
watching him. Fuck, we are all guilty. It was awful out there that night.
Nobody it at fault. It happened."

"It was my responsibility. He trusted me."

"Live with it. Move on. Lead us."

Douglas leaned against the frame of the big boy who called himself a big
donkey. "Bounce back again, Douglas," Mike whispered. "Bounce back like a
Tigger."

They were tired, hungry, and thirsty. But they were soon naked and on the
sleeping bag kissing and stroking. In the group, sex was okay between them.
There were no jealousies on the desert planet. Mike wanted to lick Douglas
all over, but it was like he was too thirsty. The boys just kissed, hugged,
stroked, and rubbed their dicks
against each other. The head of his dick rubbed up against Mike's, he kissed
him deep, and shot his first cum since leaving the "Moonduster". Mike wasn't
far behind, moaning loudly as he shot across Douglas's chest and stomach.
They stuck together as Douglas cuddled up tightly against the big donkey.
Scooter...Scooter...he thought. I love you. I' m safe. I hope you are too.

They fell asleep, Douglas feeling safe for the first time in weeks.

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

Just before dark Alex and Jeremy reached a plateau. It was flat and
stretched out to the West. They could see lots of weird rock formations
sticking up. Alex remembered dodging so many formations when he worked to
bring the "Moonduster" under control. He looked back at the twin peaks. He
was sure this was the area they flew over. They had found the pass over the
mountains. But for now it was time to rest. They would start back early in
the morning, before sunrise. Alex and Jeremy took out only one sleeping bag.
They both knew what the other one needed. And like Douglas and Mike they had
their first cum since leaving the "Moonduster."

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

"I don't understand Brett," Scooter said. "Why is he following RC again?"

"He's sick and he's scared," Jim said. "He'll come around. I hope."

"Let's go," Scooter whispered.

Scooter snuck out of his tent. Jim followed him. They were naked. Nobody
liked sleeping in their dirty ragged clothes, but most of them needed
protection from the sun during the day. They didn't have time to sunbathe
and only had so much sun screen. But at night they all had their grimy
clothes off. Some of them had lost clothes in the dust storm and during the
ride up the mountain they had to sit under parts of the tent or other
coverings.

Scooter had told Jim about finding two empty bottles in Matthew's pack. He
knew he hadn't given Matthew any water. He thought somebody else might have.
Now he wasn't so sure. They met Travis, who was naked like they were. He had
been sleeping with Robert Charles. He had Robert Charles's pack. They opened
it. Five bottles. Three full ones. Scooter crawled up into the sled. It was
dark except for the light coming from one of Inferno's two moons, which was
full. They didn't want to risk turning a flashlight
on. Scooter went to the spot Robert Charles usually sat. There was a tool
chest along the side. Scooter opened it up. It was full of empty bottles
plus four full ones. One of the full ones had the sucking spout that
Matthew's bottles had on them.

"Shit," Scooter said. "Just like I thought. Robert Charles was collecting
empty bottles and filling them from other people's. Whenever he had the
chance. Most of it from Matthew's pack. No wonder Matthew kept looking worse
and worse. Robert Charles was stealing his water. The bastard! I'm going to
kill him!"

"Now?" Jim asked.

"No. But I want to."

Scooter had one more thing to do. Take the power chips out of the the sleds.
He needed his flashlight for that. He had Travis block the light. He shined
it on the panel that the chips were in. He started to open the lid. It
wouldn't open. He pulled on it again. Nothing. He looked at the instrument
panel. Robert Charles had locked it. That kept the panel from opening. They
hopped to the other sled. Same thing. Locked. Scooter knew that if Douglas
had locked it he would have left him the code to unlock it. So it had to be
Robert Charles. Once more he had found a way to control them.

"What do we do?" Travis asked.

"Nothing. Wait for Douglas. This is going to be his call. Right now we act
like nothing happened. We leave the evidence where it was."

Scooter put everything back. Travis took the backpack. They all returned to
their tents, Travis being very quiet and slow so he wouldn't wake up Robert
Charles.

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

It was an hour before dawn. Jeremy and Alex woke up. They would leave their
clothes off until the sun got up high. All they had on were shoes, socks,
and their hats. They ate quickly, took a drink of water, and turned on their
flashlights and headed down the path.

Douglas and Mike were awake too. Their routine was just the same. The two
naked boys headed down their path.

The boys left at the sleds were awake. As soon as the sun came up Robert
Charles was going to start up the sled. He kept Jordan and Brett close to
him, like he was afraid of an attack from the other five boys. Well, Scooter
thought, you have good reason to worry. They had talked about attacking
Robert Charles. But they noticed he had picked up a heavy metal rod off of
one of the sleds and was carrying it in his hand. The three of them
transferred all the water to the one sled. Scooter had thought of running
off, but he knew Robert Charles would take the water with him. Plus he was
scared for Brett. He wasn't
sure how much Brett's going was because he wanted to and how much was
because he was being forced to. For now he was going to go along with Robert
Charles, if only to keep Douglas and the other scouts safe. I love you my
sweetness. I need you. I need you bad.

They were all loaded up on the sled. As soon as Robert Charles saw them all
on, he had a case of water bottles lowered down. He told them if they bolted
he could always come back and pack it all back on. He sat down in the
driver's seat. Jordan sat behind him facing the back. He had the metal rod.
RobertCharles was ready to take them back to the "Moonduster". He was the
leader now. He pressed the starter button.

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


The sun was starting to come up behind Mike and Douglas. Douglas looked off
to the left and the cliffs and rocks. The colors were awesome in the
sunrise. Reds and yellow and oranges and browns. Suddenly he thought he saw
something flash. He stopped, but didn't see anything.

"Something wrong?" Mike asked.

"No. I guess I'm starting to see things."

"I can understand that."

They started walking again.

"Mike."

"Yes?"

"Thanks for yesterday. And last night."

"Anything I can do to help. You know I'm always here for you. You know how
much I think of you."

Douglas saw another flash and stopped again.

"Hallucinating again?"

"Mike, look over there. I swear I'm seeing something flash."

Mike looked but saw nothing. They couldn't wait around so they started up
again. They were just about to make a turn when Douglas took a last look
back and saw another flash.

"Come on, Douglas. Leave you're mirages behind," Mike laughed. Then he saw
it too.

"What is it?"

"I don't know," Douglas said. "But it's not that high up. Let's go take a
look."

They put their backpacks down and started climbing over the rocks. Douglas
came across something. It was a heat shield, like the "Moonduster" had. His
heart started thumping. He wondered if they had dropped it flying over here,
or if it was from another shuttle. They kept climbing. They could see a
steady glare now as the sun rose higher.

They came up to a small plateau. As they climbed up on it they saw something
that stunned them. They got up on the plateau and started. Scattered across
the plateau were the parts of a space craft. It was pretty much destroyed, a
lot of it burned. They recognized parts of the cockpit and wings. Off in the
distance they could see what looked like a complete tail section with some
of the galley still in one piece. They walked over to it. The tail had a
huge Earth with a lightning bolt on it. The symbol of Space Fleet. They
looked at the writing on the tail.

In large writing it said, USS SUNDANCER. And under it in smaller writing it
said, USS STARKEEPER. Douglas and Mike felt tears coming up. They crawled
into the wreckage of the galley section. It was dark and they didn't expect
to find anything. It didn't look like anybody could have survived the crash.
Suddenly they heard a quiet moan.

"Help me."

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

It was close to noon as Alex and Jeremy rounded the corner of the big rock
where the paths split. They couldn't wait to give out the good news.

When they came around the rock, they weren't quite ready for the sight they
came across. They both stopped and stared.

NEXT CHAPTER 26 Coming and Going

 

 

 

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