A side fic from the Aestus fictional world
Thompson plunked himself down on the ground and reached for the cookies.
He grabbed two and stuffed them in his mouth. Ellis yanked the tin away. Thompson half-dove as he reached over, sputtering in protest, only to be met by a broad palm squashed against his face as Ellis handed them to a gleeful Wickford.
“Hey!” Thompson managed around a mouthful of cookie. “Those are -”
“ – for all of us,” Ellis finished.
Caspar watched, amused, from the corner.
Thompson scooted back against the bed, sulking. “Whatever.”
Then his face brightened. “Wonder if Sokol -”
This time it was a pillow to the face.
“Mmmph! Mmmph stupid mmpph Ell-”
Ellis smacked him lightly with it. He sat back and sighed. “Ah, silence.”
“I hate you.” Thompson glared at him, plucked a cookie from the tin, and tossed it over to Caspar, who reached up and caught it without apparent thought.
“You have really scary reflexes, you know that?” Thompson said.
Caspar shrugged. “I guess.”
Thompson shot him a funny look. But he was rarely annoyed for long. He gestured to the tin. “This reminds me of when we only had half our rations.”
Ellis snorted. “Yeah, because you blew them up?”
Thompson went red. “That wasn’t -”
Wickford sat up. “Oh yeah! Tell Caspar.” He turned to Caspar. “I wasn’t there. But this is a good one.”
“I didn’t -”
“Yes, you did.” Ellis sat up, looking very amused now. “Go on, tell him.”
Caspar set aside his novel, grinning widely. “Yes, tell me.”
Thompson crossed his arms, eyeing Caspar.
Then he nodded to himself. “Fine. So, uh, yeah, one night we were -”
Thompson peered out of the hatch. He and Ellis clambered out of the tube into the whistling evening sands. The perimeter looked clear.
They waited a moment, glancing at each other, then down the tube. The new recruit, Davisson, was stumbling down the corridor below, laden with supplies.
Thompson grinned sheepishly. Ellis shot Thompson a look. “Really?” he mouthed.
Davisson began to climb.
They helped him out of the hatch and into the shelter of the rock formation. The sunlight was almost gone.
Thompson consulted his map. “Weapons? Water?”
“Check,” said Ellis.
“Good. Let’s go.”
The nearest canyon was a fair distance away, but the scattered rock formations cast enough shadows that they should be safe enough. They headed off across the sands. They were each carrying a pack, Davisson more than the others. It slowed them down. Thompson tried not to shoot him annoyed looks.
They had an important mission. They needed to reach a specific canyon by nightfall.
The wind was whistling now. They huddled in between the rocks, pausing to get their bearings.
“I think we took the wrong turn,” Thompson said.
Ellis glanced sideways at him.
“Hey, it’s not my fault, Davisson here -”
Ellis nudged him, hard.
Thompson turned. Davisson, their young companion, looked crestfallen.
Thompson put out a hand, put it tentatively on Davisson’s shoulder. “Hey, man, sorry – yeah, it is my fault, I shouldn’t have made you carry all that stuff. I’m just worried that -” He went silent. “Tskoulis told us this was really important.”
“It is,” Ellis said, “and we need to make sure we do what we came here for.”
“All right. But I don’t like – ” Thompson paced. “It’s tracking devices. What if he touches one of Them, gets the disease, what if we don’t get back in ti-”
Ellis cleared his throat. Thompson stopped. Davisson looked rather pale in the dimness.
“Nice work,” Ellis muttered.
They set up their stakeout. Davisson had been sent off to scout the nearest canyon, nutrition bars in hand. They should have an hour before any good-sized parties of Onlar were out. And Thompson was hungry.
He opened the self-cooking meal pack. Pulled the tab on the top canister. Nothing.
He pulled harder. “It’s -” He grunted and yanked on it. Still nothing.
He glanced at Ellis, who wasn’t looking, and decided to ignore the instructions on the side. A little leverage should he-
Whoosh. It went up in flames.
Thompson dropped the bag, yelping, and kicked it, hopping up and down, trying to pat out the flames. Ellis shouted.
“That’s all our foo-”
“I know!” Thompson grabbed the bag and shook the offending canister onto the ground, where it continued to flame. Ellis kicked sand over it.
Thompson frantically patted out the flames on the bag.
The two of them stood there, panting.
It was dark. The fire had been bright.
Ellis and Thompson looked at each other, wide-eyed.
“What if -”
Howls, unnerving sounds, in the distance. Onlar.
They grabbed the bags and ran.
They fled down the nearest canyon and huddled below a rock outcropping, barely daring to breathe. Eventually, the noises faded, vanishing into the night. Thompson heard his stomach growl.
Ellis elbowed him. “Really?” he hissed.
“Shut up.” Thompson hissed back. “You left the radio, didn’t you.”
“You’re the one who -”
“We’re stuck out here and we can’t go back that way, what if They find the tin, what if -”
“You lit our food on fire.”
“Yeah, it was a faulty -”
Silence. Thompson didn’t look at Ellis. He stared instead into the canyon, gripping the pack to his chest.
Then Ellis said, slowly, “You used a knife, didn’t you?”
Thompson glanced at him. “So?”
“It SAYS ON THE SIDE -”
“D’you think I actually read the -”
They glared at each other and sat in stony silence.
“You’re such a dumba-” Ellis began to mutter.
“Shh.” Thompson suddenly shushed Ellis, grabbing his shoulder, eyes enormous.
They huddled, breathless.
Footsteps. Above them.
Not Patrol, Thompson thought.
He could practically see Their green eyes glowing in the night, scouring the canyon above where he and Ellis sat squashed together.
He stared at Ellis. What if –
“And after that?” Caspar was lazily eating one of the cookies, looking very entertained.
Thompson groaned. “Ellis still hasn’t let me live that one down.”
Thompson waited in absolute silence for the footsteps to leave.
He gripped Ellis’ arm.
Then he heard a voice say, “Thompson?”
He scrambled out from under the rock. “Davisson?”
He immediately froze.
A giant shape in the dark, its head turning slowly. Thompson felt his face go pale.
Was that an –
Then Davisson stepped out from behind –
Thompson felt his face go even paler.
“Oh no,” he breathed.
It was not an Onlar. It was much worse than an Onlar.
Tskoulis flipped up his mask.
“You didn’t call in,” Davisson explained, glancing nervously up at Commander Tskoulis, “and so I -”
Tskoulis clapped a hand on Davisson’s shoulder.
Thompson sheepishly held up the burned bag. “Uh, sir, I -”
Tskoulis, all 6’6” of him, glared at him. “You endangered the mission, soldier.”
Ellis had unfolded himself and was now standing very straight, saluting. Thompson wanted to sink into the ground.
“Yes, sir,” he said quietly.
“But” – Tskoulis said, and Thompson thought he detected a twitch at the corner of the man’s mouth – “it turns out that setting off, ah, explosives is an easy way to draw in the Onlar. Davisson here managed to tag one of them while they were distracted.”
“Oh.” Thompson glanced over at the recruit. “Good job, Davisson. Good work.”
Tskoulis smiled a little. “And then I see you hid in the canyon.”
Thompson looked at the ground. “Yes, sir.”
“Wise choice. Though I would suggest leaving your radio on instead of vanishing for half an hour.” He sobered. “We thought you’d been taken.”
“Now.” Tskoulis was suddenly formal again. “Let’s go.”
Thompson slunk after him, shooting Ellis a glare.
But as they walked, Tskoulis glanced over his shoulder and gave Thompson the tiniest of half-grins.
Want more of Thompson and Ellis? Check out Aestus Book 1: The City!