The Winds of Power - The Sleeper Prophecy

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Burden

~ Chapter 10 ~

‘Burden’


It was a late night. Sarah-Jane was sobbing and cursing her seer power. Amber was comforting her, explaining she had only seen a possible future. Sarah-Jane apologised and composed herself, wiping tears from her face and moving tear-soaked hair from her cheeks. Through bleary eyes she looked at Aiden as if he was about to drop dead any moment. Aiden was sure he didn’t want Sarah-Jane to ever touch him again.

They talked about the prediction ad nauseam. The others were trying to convince themselves, as much as Aiden, that predictions rarely came true. But Aiden knew this one would. Sarah-Jane’s prediction of him falling into blackness, gasping for breath, was one of the nightmares he had been having for months.

He was relieved when curfew arrived, and they could stop talking about his impending death. He was desperate to talk to Surge and had to pretend to be asleep for an age before Cosmo dropped off.

“There is always a way to change the future,” Surge counselled. “When you next have this dream, remember every detail. You must see it through to the end. There may be a clue as to where this is happening and why.”

“Can you see my future?”

“I am only your guide, to help you develop the wisdom you need to accompany your powers. I cannot see your future.”

Unimpressed, Aiden pointed out that if he died he would no longer need a guide. Surge would not budge. Aiden grudgingly bade him goodnight and slumped into bed. It couldn’t be any worse. He had healing powers but not advanced enough to heal Drew and he might die before he even had a chance to.

He travelled to check on Drew’s progress. Aunt Del was asleep in a chair. Drew still hooked up to the machine. Nothing had changed.

After another fitful night, Aiden dragged himself and Cosmo out of bed. The doctors ambushed him in the corridor. After unwelcome fussing and an uncomfortable embrace from Doctor Peasley, Aiden told them he was fine. Seers were rarely right, he reminded them, and hurried off.

“We are now orbiting the planet Dreng,” began Bajool. “This is where we have arranged for you to play the only interplanetary sport in the galaxy, Burden.”

Even Aiden, in his fatigued state, was keen to play. Bajool explained the game.

“You will be divided into two teams. Each team will carry a ball called the burden. The objective is to get the burden into the pouch at the other end of the course. The course will take you over a number of different terrains. The burden will become heavier as the game goes on.

“Sniffers are native animals of Dreng and they will pursue you. They will not let anything distract them from obtaining the burden. Illusions will not fool them. The game ends when the first team, with all members present, places the burden in the pouch at the end of the course, or when the sniffers have caught each team’s burden. You will have a three-hour head start on the sniffers.”

The team compositions did not please anyone. Despite several protests, Bajool would not change them. “This is not just about your powers,” said Bajool. “It is about team work.”

Aiden was relieved Prince Orka was on the other team. Cosmo, however, became strangely silent. He was on the prince’s team.

Amber, as usual, had a host of questions, which Bajool answered. Yes, you can breathe on Dreng. You are to wear your training outfits. Few teams complete the course, so it is the team that progresses the farthest that wins. It will take between nine hours to two days to complete the course. Sniffers are large four-legged animals. They have needle-sharp teeth and super-sensitive noses that can track a scent days old. The sniffers used in Burden are fitted with mouth guards to prevent any serious injuries. In the wild, sniffers are fierce hunters. There are no other significant life forms on Dreng – they are all extinct.

In preparation for Burden, Bajool showed them how to partially block a planet’s magnetic field. This created a weightlessness effect, making the burden easier to carry. “This requires considerable energy,” cautioned Bajool. “Between the four team members you will not be able to maintain weightlessness for the full length of the course.”

In the recreation room, they talked about the game, and the prospect of leaving the ship and exploring another planet.

Cosmo fidgeted with his wristband. “Why can’t we be on the same team?”

“It’s just a game, Cosmo,” said Sarah-Jane. “Aiden and I have two Oken and you and Amber have two.”

“Easy for you to say...” mumbled Cosmo.

“This is an exciting opportunity,” said Doctor Peasley, “not only to experience another planet and play an inter-galactic sport,” her attention turned to Aiden and Cosmo, “but to work with the Oken and recover from previous efforts.”

Aiden gave Cosmo a nudge. “I guess it’s up to you, Orka’s on your team.”

Cosmo smiled weakly.

“Don’t forget to bring sunglasses and hats. Dreng is supposed to be very hot,” reminded Amber.

“I don’t have any sunglasses,” said Aiden.

“Don’t worry,” said Amber. “I have a spare pair.”

Aiden rummaged through his bag for things to help on Dreng. He tossed his torch aside, thinking he could create his own light now. He twirled his Swiss army knife in his hand, agonising whether to take it or not. He finally returned it to his bag and settled on his binoculars, which were light and might be of use.

His mind kept dwelling on Drew, and Sarah-Jane’s prediction of his own death. Amber and Sarah-Jane were now being overly considerate, constantly asking him if there was anything they could do for him. Every time they saw him, he could see they were worried if this might be the last time they saw him alive.

Cosmo’s constant babble kept bringing him back to the present and reminding him of what he still had to do to get ready. “C’mon, get with it,” he nagged. “It’s time to go.”

“I’m ready! I’m ready!” replied Aiden, still not sure if he had everything.

They reached the recreation room just in time. Cosmo made Aiden promise to look after Sarah-Jane. Aiden knew she didn’t need looking after, but he promised anyway.

Doctor Peasley inspected them, hesitating when she saw Cosmo’s silver eyebrow stud, but said nothing. Doctor Hudson, she explained, would not be accompanying them to Dreng as he was close to finding a cure for the common cold.

Eulo met them in the landing bay as they were about to enter the pod. “Remember, when you believe there is no hope of success, you must create new hope. To succeed you must trust your instincts and one another. If you do not, you will not complete the course. Burden is more than a game. It is a testing ground for trust, teamwork and courage in the face of great adversity. It can reveal much about a being. Play well!

“Oh - Bajool, I think an adjustment to the teams is required. Aiden and Cosmo, you will swap teams.”

Cosmo slapped Aiden on the back. Aiden had no idea what Eulo was thinking. He and Orka were even less likely to get along. He took some comfort that he was now with Amber and she may need him.

The trip on the pod was uneventful. Cosmo, with a new lease on life, mocked Aiden over Amber’s spare set of sunglasses - careful that Amber did not hear. They had large blowfly-like lenses and flowery, multi-coloured arms. Aiden accepted them graciously and mentally vowed never to wear them.

They were an odd group in their training outfits and hats. Bajool had what appeared to be a scrap of brown Hessian from an old poncho resting loosely on his head. His ears appeared to be the only thing keeping it in place. Aiden and Cosmo both wore baseball caps. Cosmo’s bore the insignia of Harold’s Hardware, and Aiden’s white hat was a replica of the English cricket team’s. Sarah-Jane and Amber had broad-brimmed hats.

The pod landed on Dreng. A wall of heat engulfed them as they moved from the pod to a small structure with a roof, no sides and a waiting Ogmore. The structure stood on one end of a long straight dirt road that stretched into the distance and offered the only shade within sight. The road ran along the top of a mound high above the plain. To the side of the structure was a silver vehicle with large wheels, bench seats and no roof.

Aiden scanned the bleak landscape. Dreng was not an inviting planet. An orange sun burned in the sky, baking the red and dusty ground. Spreading into the distance were flat plains with a light covering of brown foliage not much taller than Aiden, hardly what Bajool had described as grasslands. Scattered clusters of large rocks rose up from the plains here and there. In the distance, Aiden saw hills. He could see no trees. How anything could survive in this environment escaped him. He was thankful Amber had insisted on sunscreen.

They listened to Bajool recount the rules while Ogmore carried two burdens from the silver vehicle. They were the size of basketballs, dark brown and heavier than they looked.

Bajool explained that one team would depart from here and the other team would go with Ogmore to the end of the road. The game would commence when the sky turned green. Both teams were to head for the distant hills. From the top of the hills, they would be able to see two further hills in the distance. They must reach these next hills and pass between them into the valley beyond. At the end of the valley they must cross a river and place the burden in its pouch.

“What about the sniffers?” Amber asked.

“When the sky turns red the sniffers will be released, and when the sky turns purple the game is finished.”

“Where will they be released from?”

“Under this mound,” replied Bajool, gesturing as he took a few steps to the edge of the mound. Embedded in the mound was a bunker with bars. Pacing back and forth behind the bars was a very large muscular creature with long legs, and eerie ice-white eyes. It was taller than any dog and the length of a horse, with short bristly fur. A mouth guard was strapped to its head. Rows of long, dagger-shaped teeth gleamed in the sun. It looked like a hound from hell. “There will be four sniffers pursuing each team.”

“Bajool, are you sure they’ll be safe?” said Doctor Peasley, looking pale.

“We have taken the necessary precautions. Ogmore has readied everything.” Bajool divided them into their teams. “Prince Orka, Osma, Amber and Aiden; you go with Ogmore.”

Ogmore blinked then stared at Bajool. “These are not the teams!”

“Eulo changed the teams – to balance them.”

Ogmore grunted and motioned for his team to follow.

Aiden passed Cosmo a roll-on insect repellent. “Amber has another one.”

“Ta,” said Cosmo.

Ogmore drove them along the dusty road. Prince Orka insisted on having the burden in his lap the whole time. When the other team was no longer in sight, Ogmore stopped.

“Here,” he grunted, clambering out of the vehicle. “Now we wait.”

They absorbed as much energy as they thought safe in preparation. The sun glared off the red sand. Even with a severe squint that made him look Chinese, Aiden’s eyes hurt. He reluctantly put Amber’s sunglasses on, thankful no one had a camera.

Ogmore paced up and down. Aiden and Amber stood with the Oken, trying to work out a strategy. They agreed Amber would carry the burden first, being the weakest of the group. Aiden would take over when Amber was tired, then Osma, then Prince Orka. There was no doubting the Oken were more physically suited to carrying the burden. Aiden spoke to Amber privately, and they decided he would create a weightlessness shield around the burden to help her carry it. He pulled out his binoculars and surveyed the plain and the hills. He could see nothing noteworthy.

He turned his thoughts to his impending death. He wished he knew how long he had, or more importantly, how he could avoid it. It seemed so unfair. He now had healing powers, he could become a famous magwan – yet there was a good chance he would die before he achieved anything.

Amber came up to him. “Don’t be so worried. Things will work out, Sare’s prediction, the prophecy, Drew, burden… I understand we’re just friends and you aren’t comfortable confiding in me, but you should with Sare. You two would make a great couple,” she said nervously.

Aiden couldn’t comprehend how Amber thought he and Sarah-Jane could be a couple, attractive as she was, she and he just wouldn’t work. “Amber, I don’t think…”

Amber gripped his arm. “Ogmore is up to something; he’s surrounded by a deceitful hue!” she whispered.

Before Aiden could digest this, the sky turned a deep green.

“Run! You do not want to be caught by the sniffers,” said Ogmore.

They set off at a steady pace. Aiden led the way through the scrub, which was more dense and scratchy than he had anticipated. They jogged along in the pressing heat. Half an hour passed and the hills seemed no closer. Aiden could find no path offering shade. Even though the training outfits were light and breathed well, he soon dripped with sweat. He was thankful for the sunglasses, fashionable or not.

They jogged on through the sweltering heat. Aiden couldn’t believe how well Amber was doing. She ran almost as if in a trance, with her eyes locked on the ground. Her face was, however, almost redder than beetroot. Aiden diverted their course to a cluster of rocks he had spied from a distance that offered inviting shade. Amber shook her head at him. Prince Orka growled and sent Aiden an image of an arrow pointing straight ahead. Aiden could see she was determined, so he redirected their course back towards the hills. He passed Amber more energy and she sent him an image of Superman.

There were occasional groans from Aiden and Amber when thorny bushes left deep gouges in their hands as they pushed them aside. Aiden kept glancing at his PDC to see how they were going for time. After an hour, Amber passed the burden to Aiden with a sigh of relief and a wringing of her arms. Aiden carried the burden under one arm. Amber now had enough breath to chat with Osma. Aiden received an image from Cosmo, of his team on top of the distant hills jumping with joy. He chuckled to himself – as if – and sent back an image of him picking up a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

They sipped their water as they ran. Prince Orka brought up the rear, ensuring the pace did not slacken. Another hour passed and Aiden guessed they had travelled about a third of the way to the hills. He stopped and, despite a piercing glare from Prince Orka, insisted they rest for five minutes.

Time was running out. The sniffers would be on their trail in an hour. Aiden was sure the sniffers would catch them well before they reached the hills. Covering their tracks was useless as the sniffers were attracted to the scent of the burden.

To everyone’s surprise Amber pulled out a cloth bag from under her outfit and placed it over the ball.

“What is that smell?” said Prince Orka, wrinkling his nostrils and stepping back.

“That’s Sarah-Jane’s best perfume,” she declared. “It should mask the smell of the burden and confuse the sniffers.”

“That should do it,” said Aiden relieved, and they set off again with Osma now carrying the burden.

Osma’s progress was slow, and an annoyed Prince Orka let her know she was shaming the Oken. Amber offered words of encouragement, but eventually the prince insisted Osma pass the burden to him before they waste any more time. The prince made them travel faster than before. He complained bitterly about the smell, but never the burden. Before too long the sky turned red and a wave of urgency flowed through them. The race had begun. Prince Orka picked up the pace another notch.

The prince wanted to head towards the other team, to lure the sniffers to pursue them instead. Aiden and Amber disagreed. They didn’t want to take a longer route to the hills than necessary. The prince gave a disapproving grunt. He was not used to having his views questioned. He stepped up the pace yet another notch. None of them now had any capacity to talk. Aiden was now very grateful for his intense physical training. They had never been in better physical shape. Four hours had passed, Amber had the burden again, and they continued at the pace Prince Orka had set, with no shade in sight.

The prince sent Aiden an image and Aiden reluctantly agreed. They stopped and Aiden, using Bajool’s gravitational reducing shield, stepped into Orka’s cupped claws and was tossed high into the air. From several metres high, he saw a cloud of dust rapidly travelling towards them. He landed on his feet with a small thud and they continued, knowing the sniffers were catching them fast.

“Have they passed where we put the burden in the bag?” asked Amber.

“Not yet, but it won’t be long.”

The hills loomed close. They had made good ground. Prince Orka and Aiden stopped to check on the sniffers’ progress. Aiden again, sailed high into the air. There was no dust visible.

They reached the foot of the hills without slowing their pace. Fatigued, they clambered up. They paused at the top and found marshes on the other side. A light mist covered the ground. Aiden was pleased to see there were trees, or large bushes at least. On the plain the dust cloud was moving again in their direction. Aiden could sense danger. He pulled out his binoculars and got enough focus to count four sniffers, sprinting along faster than any horse.

“We’d better get moving – they’ve got the scent again.”

At the bottom of the hill, they entered the marshes. The mist turned out to be hot steam leaking from the ground. The air was thick and had a strong, acidic smell. They tested each step of the soggy ground before moving forward. Visibility was poor. Aiden and Amber applied their insect repellent, as plague proportions of what Aiden was sure were very large mosquitoes filled the marshes. The mosquitoes did not trouble the Oken.

The marshes consisted of deep bogs, but there were enough shallow parts to allow safe passage. The bog almost swallowed Osma three times, when fatigue caused her concentration to lapse. Whenever they found a path through a bog, Amber and Osma blasted it apart behind them to slow down the sniffers. A strange sense of pride rose in Aiden when Amber produced a silver energy ball and reduced it to a lowly red to complete the destruction of the path.

They now had sweat running off them continuously, and their training outfits were soaked and sticking to their skin. The insect repellent was not proving effective. Bites covered both Aiden’s and Amber’s faces even though they reapplied the repellent every few minutes. They also had splitting headaches, making it hard to focus. Toxic mists, thought Aiden, it just keeps getting better. He couldn’t remember ever being more uncomfortable. Amber gave his water bottle a severe nudge and he gulped some down.

Though the marshes offered partial shade, they were hotter and more draining than the plains. Prince Orka doggedly carried the burden, which was weighted twice as much as when they started. As Amber finally relieved the prince, they heard the sniffers howl as they entered the marsh. A sense of dread swept through them. The sun was fading and Aiden did not want to be negotiating marshes at night. At their current rate of progress, the sniffers would catch them in the marshes.

He had an idea, and swept an energy blast across the ground in front of them. The ground hissed and steamed, hardening and settling, leaving ground they could walk on. Aiden created a path and the others followed closely as the marshes reclaimed the ground behind them.

“Don’t use all your energy,” Prince Orka barked at Aiden. “I will not carry you!”

They jogged along, sore and tired. Aiden turned to check on the others and caught a glimpse of a black cat; Shadow? Startled, he tripped and landed face first into the bog. Ignoring the prince’s anger, he pulled himself up, peering through the mists but seeing nothing. He moved forward again, glancing back now and then. Was that Shadow? He told himself it couldn’t be, that the heat and toxic fumes were getting to him.

The mist prevented them from seeing far in front or behind. Aiden received an image from Cosmo of his team, dejectedly watching as the sniffers cowered and clawed at the ground, transfixed on the burden. They were on the edge of the marsh, caught.

Aiden sent back an image of his team traipsing through the bog chased by large mutant mosquitoes, and relayed Cosmo’s message to the others. A sense of relief filled the team, knowing they had progressed farther than the others. They continued at a good pace, with everyone near exhaustion and sporting headaches. An imminent sense of danger swept through them. Aiden could not understand it. Nothing dangerous lived on Dreng. Yes, the sniffers would catch them, but that just meant they did not complete the course.

Then they heard the sniffers galloping at breakneck speed. Turning to accept their defeat, they saw the sniffers with their jaws open, teeth gleaming, salivating, and no mouth guards!

Osma shrieked.

“Destroy them!” shouted Prince Orka.

“No,” yelled Aiden. “Only if they attack us.”

Prince Orka’s frill flared up and an energy ball formed in his hands.

Aiden released a jet of white energy, blasting a hole the size of a school oval in the ground between them and the sniffers. The ground shook, a deafening roar erupted and an intense wall of steam shot high into the sky, knocking them to the ground. The sniffers halted, howling and snarling in frustration. Prince Orka reeled around and stared at Aiden incredulously.

“I can’t reach Bajool,” said Amber alarmed. “My head’s throbbing too much, and I can’t concentrate. They’re drawn to the burden. Let’s drop it and get out!” she yelled.

They dropped the burden and ran. The now purple sky transformed the mist into a violet shroud that weaved around them, clogging their senses. Aiden strained to see through it, and was startled to see a pair of small red eyes staring back at him before disappearing into the mist. He was starting to hallucinate – first Shadow and now the red eyes of the mangy squirrel!

They wearily weaved their way through the marsh, listening for the sniffers. An uncomfortable amount of time passed with no sign of them. Aiden’s head was throbbing so much he thought it would explode. He could still sense danger, as strong as before. He didn’t believe, like the others, that the sniffers would be satisfied with the burden.

Even using Bajool’s magnetic shield to reduce the effects of gravity, Amber and Aiden’s legs felt like lead. Prince Orka trudged behind, his eyes not leaving Aiden. Aiden could no longer focus enough to draw in energy. Exhausted, dehydrated and too tired to speak they marched on. Hissing fissures and the hum of mosquitoes filled the air.

With the end of the marsh in sight, and Prince Orka saving a spent Osma again from sinking beneath the bog, they glimpsed a sniffer far off to the left stalking them. They moved closer together, still trudging forward, peering through the mists, and saw another sniffer to the right and then one in the distance behind them. They were being hunted!

“I think they’re more interested in us than the burden,” Amber whispered.

“We should have destroyed them!” growled Prince Orka.

“I do not have enough energy to create a shield to protect myself,” cried Osma.

“Me neither,” said Amber. “Bajool will rescue us!”

Aiden was not sure if he had enough energy left to create a shield big enough to cover them all. The fourth sniffer appeared in front of them, and the creatures sprang from every side, jaws snapping. Prince Orka breathed heavily as he formed a bright yellow ball of energy. It was all he had left. The girls tried unsuccessfully to raise a shield. Aiden shut his eyes and concentrated. The sniffers leapt at their throats, and bounced off empty air with a yelp.

Prince Orka stared at Aiden. “How did you... ?” he spluttered as the sniffers threw themselves repeatedly against the shield, jaws snapping.

Aiden ignored him. Surge, I need you now, he called in his mind.

“Yes?” said Surge, as he appeared by Aiden’s side.

“I need your help,” he whispered. “I can’t hold this shield together much longer.”

Surge glanced around. “You need to leave the marshes.”

“Is that it?” Aiden muttered to himself as Surge left. What good are guides if they don’t help? But as he surveyed their situation, he took comfort in Sarah-Jane’s prediction of his death. There was no black nothingness here. He was not going to die on Dreng.

“I can’t hold the shield for long,” Aiden warned. “We must keep moving out of the marsh.”

They edged forward under the shield, Prince Orka holding his energy ball at the ready. The shield flickered from time to time as Aiden fought to retain his concentration.

Unsettled by the advancing shield, two of the sniffers fell backwards into a deep bog, scrambling furiously as they sank. Another sniffer shrieked in pain as it walked into a jet of steam. The huddled group moved slowly forward. The mists seemed to be thinning, the ground firming. The last sniffer crouched low and trailed them, growling, ears flat against its skull. As they left the swamp and its mists, Aiden gave Orka a signal and lowered his shield.

“Will the other sniffers come back?” asked Osma. As if in reply, growls rose from the gathering twilight.

“This one is gone,” snarled Orka. He blasted the sniffer from an arm’s length away. It flinched as the blast bounced off its hide and slunk towards the prince, drool dripping from its jaws. It crouched low and pounced, sinking its jaws into his shoulder. The prince grunted. He thumped and clawed wildly at the sniffer to no effect. Osma screamed and threw herself upon the sniffer, clawing its face. The sniffer dropped the prince from its bloodied jaws and turned on Osma. She screamed.

A blinding white flash engulfed the sniffer and it burst into flames. Osma stood motionless covered in ashes. Aiden created another white energy ball and dispensed with the sniffer bearing down on Amber.

Osma knelt at the prince’s side, howling as he lay in a pool of blood. His limbs were twitching and his eyes rolling, unable to focus. Aiden knelt. The prince’s injuries were more than he thought he could handle.

“Do not touch me, human,” the prince croaked. “There is nothing that can be done.”

Out of the toxic mists, Aiden’s head was starting to clear.

“We’ll see.” Summoning all the energy he could, Aiden bathed the prince in a yellow light. The sniffer’s dagger-like teeth had pierced his shoulder and chest. He worked methodically from one organ to the next, passing his life force to the prince to sustain him as he worked. Surge appeared again, crouching by Aiden.

“You have learnt well,” he said. “Healing your enemy is wise.”

“Ta,” Aiden whispered, as Surge disappeared again. He worked on the prince while Amber and Osma hovered nearby.

Time passed. He couldn’t concentrate enough to draw any more energy, but steadily he continued.

As his energy ran dangerously low, he felt the warmth of the pendant against his chest – it was helping him! He wiped his brow and stood, knees trembling and head light.

The prince staggered to his feet, his eyes anchored on Aiden. “We must move. There are still two beasts left!”

“You’re welcome,” Aiden muttered.

Amber steadied Aiden, and free of the marshes they trudged along between the two rocky hills. Prince Orka shunned Osma as she offered him support and moved gingerly. As the sun sank, they surveyed the last stage of the course. There were no plants or trees in sight. Large bare rocks lay strewn one atop of the other, covering every inch of ground and stretching to the horizon. They gathered in as much energy as they could and climbed the first rock. Orka struggled and glared at Osma when she attempted to help.

Cold wind whipped across the wasteland without pause, with occasional icy gusts chilling them to the bone. They each held a small yellow energy ball to light the way now the sun had disappeared. The wind howled and darkness pressed around them. They clambered up rock faces, jumping from one to another, edging around and slipping down boulders as their legs ached and their stomachs growled.

“We need to stop,” panted Amber. Reluctantly Prince Orka agreed. They headed for a nearby cluster of rocks that offered partial shelter from the winds. Aiden heated up a couple of boulders the size of cars, until they were red hot. The radiated heat took away the chill in the air.

Orka insisted on taking the first watch as the others slept. Aiden lay down with his hands under his head. He thought about Drew, Sarah-Jane’s prediction, the attack of the sniffers, how hungry he was, and Shadow. He was sure Shadow was watching him now. With no capacity to astral travel, Aiden fell into a fitful sleep.

When Orka woke Aiden for guard duty, he didn’t feel he had had any sleep at all. He sat gazing out into the darkness. Surge was either unable or unwilling to offer him advice. He had used his healing powers in front of Orka and Osma. The prince now knew that Aiden had more energy than anyone else. He had revealed the things Eulo had told him to hide. He guessed he was lucky Orka had not killed him as he slept. None of this concerned Surge, but he did ask one question. Who tampered with the sniffers - and why?

Aiden turned as a pod landed on a nearby flat rock. He woke the others and they wearily, and with tremendous relief, found Bajool, a very worried and relieved Doctor Peasley, and the other team at the pod.

Bajool shocked them with the news that Ogmore had tampered with the burden and fled in a pod.

“But why?” asked Amber.

“We can only guess he was trying to prevent Goolma’s prophecy from being fulfilled,” said Bajool.

“I thought the sniffers were supposed to be safe,” said Doctor Peasley pointedly.

“Burdens are laced with pheromones that attract the sniffers. They also release a pacifying tone the sniffers can hear when they get close. Ogmore turned off the pacifying tone so they would revert to their natural, wild state.”

“But why only our burden?” asked Aiden.

“When Ogmore is captured, we hope to find out. The Buwah are fiercely loyal. Such a disgrace is unheard of. Ogmore has betrayed the Buwah and the Alliance. His clan will disown him.”

The pod docked in Deep Space Discovery. Filthy and tired, everyone traipsed to their quarters, anxious to clean themselves up and sleep for what was left of the night.

* * *

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