Fatu stood brushing his hands through the fur of the large dresarge, trying to shake out as much of the sand as possible.
“Their lashes help keep the sand out of their eyes and they can close their nostrils to keep it out as well,” he explained. “Much better adapted to life on this planet than we are,” he said as he looked over toward the mound where we placed Salid under a pile of stones we gathered.
Fatu removed my shackles as soon as I emerged from under the cart. I was helping by picking up what remained of our supplies as we talked.
“Salib was a good man even if his allegiance was misguided.” He pulled a water skin from the sand. Damp sand clung to its sides. It was empty. “Did you find any skins still intact?”
“Two,” I said and indicated them with the nod toward the things I placed on the cart canvas next to them, the hunk of cheese – still edible if we cut off the sandy portions, two apples and the worthlessly sandy bread remnant.
“That will get us back to Kadear. We need to get you out of here,” he stated flatly.
“He has my blaster.”
“I’ll get that somehow.”
“I’m not leaving without my blaster,” I said with conviction.
“You can buy another.”
As much as I wanted to trust Fatu he was a Galactic Official and could turn me in for losing my blaster, and murder if Aldobi-rand pressed charges. I had another plan. I don’t like leaving loose ends. I didn’t like the thought of contributing to Aldobi-rand’s plot to take over this planet.
“I have a better idea,” I said to Fatu as I sat down on one of the stones left by the fire pit. “You take me to Mazala. I present myself to TiSenge. I tell him I escaped from you and Salib. Aldobi-rand’s spy in TiSenge’s tribe reports that I am there and appear to be worming my way in, though not quite as planned. Rand does not turn me in to the G.O. for murder. You go home and report Salib’s death and present our revised plot to infiltrate TiSenge’s inner circle saying that the letter he sent with us was lost and you did not feel your powers of persuasion were as finely tuned as Salib’s. That keeps your cover story in place. I give Keela a heads up on her lover’s plans for her father’s tribe. You get my blaster. I come back. Retrieve my blaster from you and leave, never to be seen again.”
“Great except for one major flaw,” Fatu said as he picked up the corners of the canvas and tied them together with a bit of rope from the trashed cart covering. “The reason for my mission on Alta III is twofold - see that technology does not fall into the hands of the populace and that no outside force influences the course of the planet’s evolution. I think I can retrieve your blaster. But you, my dear, are altering the playing field in a major way if you succeed in contacting Keela and informing her of Aldobi-rand’s intentions. Things must continue without insider knowledge. He will end up ruling this whole planet one day. Of that I have no doubt.”
“Okay,” I conceded. I wanted to avert a dictatorship, but short of that I was happy with just getting my blaster and hightailing it out of here. “I’ll go to Mazala long enough to do a little information gathering for you and play for enough time so you can get my blaster back or destroy it,” I said as I produced the detonator from my pocket. I handed it to Fatu.
“Why didn’t you destroy it when you were in Kadear?” Fatu asked in a bewildering tone.
“Rand was wearing it every time I saw it. What was that you were preaching about non-interference? I figured maiming or killing the future leader of the Kadear tribe might be considered interference.” I took a deep breath. “I didn’t come here to make trouble. I came here to deliver a painting,” I said in frustration. “I need to at least put in an appearance in Mazala to keep you out of hot water with Rand. You need to get my blaster for your sake as much as mine. I’ll go play for time. You save our butts. You think a week will give you enough time?”
“Plenty, I’ll draw you a map to my place. We’ll meet there in five days.” Fatu shouldered our goods and headed toward the dresarge. “Come on, we can make Mazala by nightfall.”
Welcome to a new partnership with a mutual self-preservation clause.