Disclaimer: Spaces Cases belongs to Nickelodeon and is the creation of Bill Mumy and Peter David as are the characters of Harlan Band and Radu and any others who appear here or are mentioned; they are not mine. Written for longtail's request in the New Year's Resolutions 2009 Yuletide challenge.
"Not If, Just a Question of When" by Karen
For one of the few times in recent memory Harlan Band had a very good reason to actually envy that weird Andromedan biology.
Instead of sweating profusely in the intense heat of the desert Radu actually appeared quite comfortable, or he was simply better at masking his discomfort. By contrast Harlan's dusky black skin felt as if it had been coated with several layers of grit, sand, and sweat.
The tightly packed curls that he had worn since the encounter with the Hil people where the Christa had crashed after traveling through the White Circle were wringing wet with sweat. Under the circumstances Harlan would have demanded that he take the lead, and Radu and the others of the survey team, Rosie and Bova, and Suzee would let him.
When it became obvious that they had been walking around in circles Harlan relented and had Radu and Rosie take point.
However, with Radu's ability to distinguish distances to and from point A to B and vice-versa was uncanny and yet another aspect of his 'weird' Andromedan biology. Perhaps he had been out underneath the sun too long for the patch of scrawny cacti and the fiftieth or was it now the hundredth sand dune they had surmounted and then descended. While Rosie might very well have carried on during the day, the others did not take much convincing that it would best to travel at night or later in the afternoon when it was not so hot.
Radu, the second day into their search, tracking the elusive electronic signal that had led them to the remote desert world, and Harlan was just about ready to throw up his hands and give it up as either a wild goose chase whatever the signal's origin had been. Well they had done their best. It might not have even be a legitimate distress call. Should that be the case they could have Rosie contact Commander Goddard to send a few of the Starlings shuttle to come collect them.
Harlan had just made the decision to utter just those orders when all of their tracking devices began to flash in alternating patterns of green, red, red, green and then emit a very distinct tone.
Harlan glanced at Bova and Rosie the one discussing in excited but quiet tones the possibility that they whomever had sent the distress signal might require medical attention; the other, that if that was the case, it would hardly do them any good to reach them. The latter, with some but not all of the blahness of the apparently fruitless search seeping from his mind and body as the entire group rushed forward and up and over, and down yet another dune.
At the bottom of the dune was a sight that none of the intrepid band of would-be Star dog explorers had ever expected to see: at least not more than the once in their young lives.
The craft was a metallic silver; however the hull looked to have seen better days, for it was cracked and pitted and tarnished in more than one spot; the tears and rips in the hull appeared to have been caused by carbon scoring that could only have come from weapons' fire.
"Harlan," whispered Radu taking a half-step towards the older boy the hand that held the tracking device dropping down to lie against his thigh before he shook his head; the strap that curtailed but could not completely restrain the tangled mass of his Andromeda hair had begun to unravel. And for the first time since the search to located the origin point of the distress signal beginning to tell on the normally restrained and calm Radu showing a crack by the hesitiant tone in his voice, he added. "Is that what I think it is?"
"How should I know?" replied Harlan harshly before realizing that his meaning might very well be misconstrued. "I, I, I know that it looks ... looks, like ours..." Harlan trailed off, uncertain of what action to take next.
Radu appeared not to have noticed his lapse and continued to stare at the damaged shuttle craft with a distant and unreadable look on his face.
"About as close as two peas in a pod," muttered Bova. "In fact, it bears a strking resemblance to the one where Radu and I nearly suffocated to death. Have I told you that story, Rosie?"
"Any life signs?" asked Rosie as she shuffled forward through the loose sand at the base of the dune so that she was nearer but not too close.
"The scanner shows moderate to low level possibility of anything humanoid having survived a crash of this magnitude," replied Suzee stepping forward to run her own scanner over the tarnished silvery surface of the shuttle craft. The dry, hot atmosphere of this planet might have very well allowed this ship to survive out here as long as it did.
"You mean that it might have been here longer than we thought," asked Radu.
"Is there any way we can open and look inside?" asked Rosie.
Suzee nodded. "I believe so. I have studied the Starling's basic overall design and while this is a much older model than the one we have aboard the Christa," She sighed and flashed a reassuring glance at the small group," I doubt very much that the design has changed all that much in the last decade or so. It should be easy to open."
"Famous last words," muttered Bova and Harlan almost the exact same time and when they noticed that they had a round of nervous but expectant laughter went through the group.
After all they had come out of both a sense of curiosity about the origin of the distress signal, and an innate need to help people, so why were they so nervous.
The uncanny resemblance to their own ship notwithstanding, the possibility of another twin 'sister' of the Christa had always been a distinct possibility, and perhaps even if there were no one left alive aboard the damaged shuttle craft they might be able to salvage something of the craft's computer databanks or technology that might even help them in their own travels and might even allow them to shave some of the time of their own journey home.
With that in mind Harlan nodded to Suzee and said, : "Go ahead, crack this baby open, Suzee."
"Go ahead, Suzee," echoed Radu a few seconds later. Rosie and Bova nodded encouragement as well.
Much to their surprise the hatch came loose having sat flush with the exterior frame of the shuttle craft giving with a barely audible whoosh of released oxygen. The hatch was heavier than Harlan had expected and turning to Radu he handed it over before he joined Suzee into the cramped interior.
The initial surprise at finding technology so obviously similar in nature and function to that aboard their own ship, the Christa had gradually worn off in the last hour or so as had the expectation for finding anyone or anything at all alive aboard. Focusing at being the first to make any discovery Harlan was only peripherally aware at Suzee's calm voice saying:
"It's obvious now, Rosie, that the distress signal we picked up must have been operating on an automatic feedback loop, at least seven to eight times every three to four solar cycles."
"If whoever had been aboard the shuttlecraft was the same somebody who built the Christa; then where did they go?"
"I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that one. But remember to the other sister ship we stumbled across?" she asked.
"I remember that incident," Radu replied as he came over to where the others stood crouched in the cockpit. "Bova didn't want to come in, something about not liking tight spaces and said it would make more sense to have someone stand watch outside."
"Harlan, maybe we'd better not..." whispered Roise, "You know talk about that, cause of you know who and what not.."
"I know, Rosie, I know..." muttered Harlan under his breath.
Radu shrugged and pretended not to notice the sidelong glances before he said.
"The ship had been under attack by the Spung."
"This ship while much older than anything we have aboard the Christa," added Suzee. "It's fine, the ship is just out of power and very old."
"Just how old are we talking here? Years? Decades?" asked Harlan.
"I couldn't say for certain." Suzee shrugged. "But I'd like a chance to study in more detail."
"We should contact Commander Goddard sooner or later," Bova said as he poked his head in the now opened access way. "It'll be getting dark soon. I for one, would not want to spend another afternoon and perhaps longer than that walking through that desert."
Harlan flashed a reassuring and rather sly grin around at everyone and said. "You'll get no arguments from me."
Suzee and Rosie nodded. Harlan glanced at Radu who appeared to have a rather apprehensive look on his face before he nudged the other boy in the ribs. "Hey, Radu. You okay?"
Radu startled for a moment before he shook his head and offered a smile of his own. "When you're right Harlan; you're right." Radu thrust out his arm and conscious not to apply just enough force to shake the other boy's arm without bruising it: hoping that Harlan would not
misconstrue the gesture; especially after everything they had been through recently.
"My two favorite words," exclaimed Harlan, and after a moment's hesitation, smiled and returned the gesture.