Mom's structure was making all kinds of odd noises and when she released everybody, no one moved for quite a while. All that Terry did was run his hands over his face and head, wiping dirt away. Muddy smears showed on his fingers as he brought them down.
“Sand dune five hundred forty-five metres away has requisite raw materials for self repair,” Mom said. The whole machine lurched into motion, only four of her eight legs working, thankfully the damage wasn't all on one side. Three legs on the right and one middle leg and her shovel foot deployed on the damaged side, though it was not supposed to be used as a walking leg. The noise she made as she moved was like crushing glass and chewing sand but once the shovel foot brought the left side of the cabin level it was smoother.
“I'm glad you can repair yourself.” Terry said. A blown out flap of Mom's outer skin hung down across one corner of the screen, flapping, looking like a badly folded crystal display, each cell limp and pasty gray, with a spreading oily bruise in the centre. “Mom, can you feel pain? I hope not.”
“Each of my skin cells has a damage alarm centre and passes the information along to me. I do not feel it, I merely acknowledge it.”
“Ow.” Eshmaeel and Davood were at least sitting up. He could hear them rustling and groaning behind. “Mom--”
She cut him off as she stopped by the sand dune. “--I require all energy and processing space to repair myself. I will not be available to speak to for approximately fifty three hours. My water filters will be working and I will open the main access door and leave it open for you during this period. I will deal with the dirt once I am functional once more. Food printing will be available again in approximately seventeen hours. I suggest you not wander far, Terence, this ecosystem is more dangerous than you know.”
As she spoke, she extended both her shovel-feet forward and settled onto her belly, folded all other legs away as best they could and swam into the middle of the dune, sand washing over the screens as she wiggled in, light vanishing. Mom didn't turn on any cabin lights at all and Terry was left with his own ragged, bile-stinking breathing as company in the darkness. The boys didn't make a sound.
The glass crunching noises got louder until her cabin emerged out the other side but she didn't pull the rest of her body out from under, remaining nine-tenths buried. A metallic groan, the screen split down the middle and the door scissored open letting a whip of sand blow in on an icy wind. It certainly smelled better out there than in here; wet and heated metal instead of fear organics.
“The sun's nearly down,” Eshmaeel's voice came from the bunk. “These bunks are warm, even with that open. I suggest you lie down and we all sleep.”
Terry staggered up and back to the loo, where he wrenched the door free, kicking muck out of the way so he could latch it. “All right. Sounds good. I'm not going to stagger around in a howling wilderness after a storm like that, by myself or in the dark. But I'm going to wash. With all that moisture out there we can afford it.”
Outside, the sun had almost set, casting enormous black shadows against the white and yellow and red dunes, the white mushroom rocks looming against the retreating black clouds, the only living thing visible was the earthan whisper grass. “Lying down without moving for once would be lovely.”
The sun was nearly down. One of the zon had ridden by, checked at the split trail Dag had left and followed the false one, clearly dismissing the scratches in the rock leading to the dangerous trees.
Dag shifted slightly under Silly's wing and he twitched as if to stand up, but turned his head sideways to look up the trunk at the nearest thorn pods, and merely clicked his beak. The light was turning an odd colour, one that Dag had never seen before.
It was clear and still and a yellowish copper. The rains were coming. Everyone could feel it, but the clouds in the distance, like mountains, seemed darker. A breeze started. Just a gentle zephyr. Something was making her uneasy. There was no reason for her to be uneasy.
The scrape and jingle of warbird harness, the bells on the hood chiming as it shook its head. The rider stopped. “Ma? Ma are you out here? You've got to come in, there's a problem.”
But he didn't say anything else. You're going to have to try harder than that to fool me, m'lad. If there were a REAL emergency you'd be bellowing details, right quick like. He sighed. She could hear him from there and risked peeking out through Silly's feathers. “Ma?”
The wind picked up and a distant, faint rumble fading off into the desert. The rains would certainly be here by tonight. Probably in a handful of hours. “Ma? Come on!”