Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Kruger had given up wiping the dust off his goggles, relying instead on the shadow cast by the ridge line for direction, a shadow that was shrinking. They’d have to find a pass to the other side before the sun swung overhead, or risk boiling in their watersuits.

A gap in the rock opened up, and turning into it, Kruger saw in his periphery what looked like a large rock retreat into the shadows. He stopped, and Packard stepped into him hard from behind, almost knocking him down.

“Warn me before you do that.” Packard’s was too tired for his voice to convey annoyance.

Kruger pawed away the dust on his goggles, staring into the darkness. Had he hallucinated that?

“I think that rock’s alive,” he pointed one gloved finger, raising his arm only from the elbow, “the locals eat some kind of shell meat from out here, that might be food.”

His copilot moved closer, wiping at the red film that obscured his vision, skepticism hidden beneath his sealed headpiece.

“I wish I’d thought to grab the rock hunting gear before we bailed.” Kruger noted his companion wasn’t too tired for sarcasm.

Kruger kicked loose a chunk of stone and tossed it into the darkness, flinching despite himself as a flat expanse of what appeared to be rock dislodged itself and lumbered along on four angular legs in the shadows before hunkering down and becoming still again.

“I think we’d best leave that alone Kruge, I doubt we could beat that craggy bastard to death on a good day.”

Kruger felt a bead of sweat form on his nose before his recycler snatched it up, and he realized the sun had moved overhead, the temperature inside his suit rising.

“We’ll get ahead of it, chase it out into the open.” Kruger moved slowly, careful to step back inside the decaying shadow.

“Ahead of it?”, Packard’s voice taking on an incredulous tone, “Chase the damned thing? We’ve been walking for four bloody days, I’m not in any shape to catch anything, and if we did, how do you propose we kill it?”

“We sweat to stay cool, and we’ve got suits to conserve moisture. That thing’s hiding in the shadows and trying hard not to move. If we make it run in the open desert, I doubt it will last five minutes.”

“I doubt if I’ll last five minutes.”

“Pack, it could be days before we get back, we need food. We just run it until it drops, and it’ll bake in the sun all afternoon. We wait in the shade until dark, then we eat.” Kruger had a plan. Kruger always had a plan.

Packard shook his head, but followed the pilot’s lead, moving carefully past the creature while collecting fist sized chunks of rock.

When they were safely on the shadowed side of the ridge, they began mercilessly pelting the animal with thrown stone, forcing it first to retreat to the edge of the outcropping, and then reluctantly to break cover and lumber off into the blinding afternoon sun. They chased it as far as they could, before returning to the safety of the overhang, watching it stagger and falter on the open ground, unable to find refuge from the heat.

Kruger sat carefully, leaning back against the rock. “Now we wait.”

Packard pictured the hard shelled creature, likely drifting over with sand while they sat there.

“I only wish I’d thought to grab a can opener when I was bailing out.”

Packard again; always with the sarcasm.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows