When the sound of her flatcamel’s hooves changed from a shifting of sand to a clopping of stone, Perla allowed herself to grow hopeful. She’d heard many stories about the rocket lands, but this was the first evidence that they’d borne any truth. The fiery breaths of a thousand human-made engines upon the sand had fused the grains into a continuous sheet of hard silica. Her heart ached to look upon that place, to see the towering fingers of flame grasping at the sky, but it would have to wait. The sun was already fully above the horizon.
There was shade beneath an overhanging escarpment where she could rest and wait out the worst of the day’s heat. The sun was enormous in the sky—she could not cover it with her outstretched hand—but it moved quickly. In a few hours she could travel again. While she waited she listened for the deep roars of rockets, coming or going, but it was foolish to think she could hear anything above the midday winds. Except, of course, for the snoring of Jaad, her flatcamel—a creature that, like the humans that rode it, was not from here but had adapted out of necessity.
At last, the sun marched back downward and the heat abated and the wind slept. Perla mounted Jaad as it knelt, and then coaxed it to rise up onto its elegant spindly legs. She pushed the animal hard, hoping to cross the high dunes to the north before nightfall. Travel was easier now on the hard ground, and she felt a flutter of excitement in her chest that she hadn’t known since her childhood in M’Laant. She was at a midpoint, between the faraway days of her youth and the far off reaches of other worlds, but for the first time she was certain she was traveling in the right direction.
As the sun kissed the horizon, stirring up sandstorms in the distance, Perla finally saw the rocket lands over the crest of the next dune. Or, at least, what was left of them. She dismounted and led Jaad by its reign into the wide valley. It was a shanty town now, long abandoned by the Coalition fleets. Fueling stations and landing pads and maintenance facilities littered the landscape, repurposed as shade shelters and stables and market stands. The rusted wind-beaten structures were a patchwork of spot welds and scraps of canvas. The stories of rockets and rebirth among the stars had been true, once, but no longer. Perla stood crestfallen in the shadow of a gutted shuttle and wondered what had ever made this dream seem possible.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image used with permission.