Arr sat cross legged on the pod’s ramp in the shade of the doorway. Kay-o lay by his side, his tongue lolling out from the heat of the desert surrounding them.
Arr hated the pod. The first English medical term he learned was ‘claustrophobic.’ The pod was stiflingly cramped. The initial trip in it from his home planet to Jake’s ship, the Calpernia, was almost unbearable. Jake insisted on strapping him in the first time. The second time Arr did a very juvenile thing, he growled at Jake. Arr was eighteen and once his species, the henu, reached adulthood it was considered extremely rude to growl, but Arr couldn’t help himself. Jake backed off and Arr made the flight white knuckled and grinding teeth all the way to the Calpernia.
He was thrilled to find that the claustrophobia subsided once he was out in the larger ship. It was a great relief since staying on his home planet would have meant living the rest of his life alone after the devastating attack of ‘The Others’ wiped out his people.
Arr stood up and slipped his spacer coat off. The thing was thermostatically controlled, but Arr still wasn’t used to wearing a coat when it was hot outside. He would rather sweat a little in his shirt sleeves. He tossed the coat on his chair inside. He reached up and stretched toward the doorframe above his head.
Kay-o didn’t move. No doubt he was sweltering in his heavy fur coat.
Arr could turn the air on, but that would mean sitting in the confines of the pod because if he left the dar-dolf alone inside he would tear the place apart in boredom.
Jake parked their pod next to 3su’s for an expedient escape. 3su’s only concern was convenience when she picked her parking spot. Concealment or shade were not as important as proximity to Kadear. However, being left behind in the bald sun was not a comfortable situation for Arr and the dar-dolf.
Arr wished Jake would have taken them along. The more time he spent with Jake the more difficult he found it to be separated from him. Arr couldn’t really put his feelings into words. He just felt lost when Jake was not in sight. But, Jake gave the orders. Jake said stay. He and Kay-o would wait until their leader either came back or called for them to come assist him.
Arr walked out to the edge of the pod’s ramp. He studied 3su’s cloaked ship against its desert backdrop. Jake needed the sensors on their pod to locate it. Arr could see it. His eyes could detect the faint break between the cloaked vessel and the actual landscape around it. He walked out to it and ran his hand across its smooth surface.
He was so bored. He wished he remembered the flat, he could have read to pass the time.
“Come on, Kay-o,” he called to the dar-dolf. “Let’s go for a walk.”
The huge beast raised his head, closed his mouth long enough to swallow, then went back to panting.
“Come on,” Arr coaxed. He picked up a stick and waved it at the beast. “Here! Kay-o.” He lobbed the stick out away from the pod.
Kay-o came to his feet and moved to the edge of the ramp, but stopped short when his paw hit the sand. He lifted it and moved back up onto the coated metal grating.
“Too hot for your bare paws?” Arr asked. “I guess it is a bit warm to play fetch.” As he started toward the pod he thought he felt the sand shift under his feet just as his eyes registered the fact that the sun was slipping behind the smaller of the three moons. The mid-day eclipse Jake told him about was starting.
He was sure he felt the sand move again. He wondered if it was a lizard like the ones that burrowed in by the lake at home. He thought about digging to see, but Kay-o interrupted his thoughts with a low ominous growl.
He remembered Jake’s warning to stay near the pod and get inside at the first sign of the eclipse.
Kay-o had backed up the ramp and stood in the doorway growling menacingly.
Arr came up beside him and stood looking out toward the sand.
As the sun slowly passed behind the moon the slight breeze, that was the only redeeming quality to the desert heat ceased. The air became very still and everything went silent. The insects and birds that were calling just a moment before disappeared. It was as though he and Kay-o were the only creatures on the planet until he heard the merest rustle of shifting sand.
In the pale glow of light around the edge of the small moon Arr thought he saw the sand in front of the pod undulate. He stood transfixed - the almond shaped pupils of his cat eyes so large the china blue of the iris disappeared giving the impression that his eyes were totally black. He scanned the landscape. Kay-o rumbled deep in his throat.
“Shh…” Arr warned. He laid his hand on the dar-dolf’s back.
The sun continued on its course starting to slide behind the first of the two larger moons. It grew darker.
Arr’s eyes were better than Kay-o’s in the dark, their hearing was similarly acute, but when it came to their sense of smell Kay-o had his beat by a mile.
As it grew darker the dar-dolf raised his head to catch the scent, then lowered it and started to move forward.
Arr reached out and grabbed him by the ruff of his neck.
“No,” he whispered without taking his eyes off the sand. “Stay.”
In the last pale rays of light before they were plunged into total darkness Arr saw the huge triangular head of an enormous snake push its way out of the sand and start to slither up the ramp toward them.
The light red/gold hair on Arr’s arms rose in fright. He tightened his grip on Kay-o.
“Back!” he ordered.
The dar-dolf obeyed. They both stepped into the pod and Arr hit the sensor by the door. The instant it slid shut they heard a heavy thud as something huge struck it from the other side. Arr backed away as it continued to strike again and again. The violence of the blows rocked the pod.
Kay-o bellowed threateningly at the potential intruder. His voice ricocheted around the tiny interior of the cabin. Arr flicked on the outside probe lights.
He only caught a glimpse before the scene shifted back to the still of the sandy desert landscape, but what he saw in that glimpse made him feel entirely different about being trapped in the pod. He now saw the pod as a protective cocoon because that mere glimpse showed him the sand alive with snakes – huge, slithering, ravenous snakes – now lurking just outside the ring of illumination cast by the probe lights.