Unknown Dusk Moon
“You diverged them?!“ Shindow grouched at Baxter.
“Baxter, do you even know what you did?” Shindow was furious.
What Baxter did had never been done before.
“Yes, I made it less confusing. Steak and Pat are easy to remember, not like Elevenerstuck.”
“This- This hasn’t happened before. Their strength is in their single uniform mind. What you did could change their personality, which could change their fighting effectiveness!”
Baxter’s ears drooped at that. He didn’t feel like a good dog.
“I am very sorry. Can we change them back?” Baxter softly whined.
Gideon was in the corner of the bridge, still sleeping. The injuries appeared to have been healing, which pleased Baxter. Perhaps after Gideon healed, they could all then run around the strange grey dirt, digging for things. He liked digging.
But also steak. The meat kind.
He didn’t like people getting angry with him.
“I’ll try. After all, they may simply accept their names and refuse to change back,” Shindow explained.
“Don’t tell Gideon. He’ll be mad and…” Baxter stopped and sat down, head drooping.
Shindow floated over to him and landed on his nose, sitting side saddle off of it.
“Is it what he said before the crash?” Shindow asked.
Yes,” Baxter replied with a whine.
Baxter felt Shindow petting his nose snout, it felt tingly and tickly.
“A lot happened when I was shutdown. It may have been because of the flight going bad.”
Baxter sniffed at that.
“Baxter, we’re all out of our element here. We should’ve been heading back to Karmmrak from Lo IX by now- unless the Empire of Dusk had more for us to do…” Shindow explained.
“The bad guys. I will bark and bite them.” Baxter let out a whining chuff at that.
He did not like those dark bad guys, they were very scary.
Shindow giggled at that, continuing.
“No, what I’m saying is Gideon may have said some things he didn’t mean.”
“Oh,” Baxter replied.
“Yes. Am I useful?” Baxter in turn asked.
His voice changed to a serious tone.
“What did you just do?” Shindow said while poking his nose.
The strange tickling made his nose twitch and sneeze.
“I made a mess again.” Baxter softly barked a whine.
“You didn’t know, and I couldn’t have known you had senior authority to change Excertius’ name.” Shindow sighed as she placed her face into her tiny arm. She looked up and into Baxter’s dark eyes.
“Did you map the terrain, critical to our mission?”
“Yes,” Baxter responded, sitting up wiggling his rump.
“Did you run a good packsquad and get everyone home?”
“Yes!” Baxter chuffed, still wiggling his rump.
“How about the sample of ash-dust?”
“Uh, yes.” Baxter stopped wiggling. He was trying to remember.
Was it that grey dirt? I took some of it…
“And the iron crystals?”
Baxter felt he was very sure he never touched those strange crystal things.
“Excertius got them,” Shindow whispered with a growing smirk.
“Yes!” Baxter recanted and wiggled his rump happily.
“Who tested the Hind? The Excertius?”
“And the pulse rifles!” Baxter added.
“What?” Shindow stopped at that.
“I did not say testing the Pulse Rifle!” Baxter’s ears drooped as he looked around guiltily.
“Moving on… Don’t you see, Baxter? You did a good job.” Shindow went on.
This is it. Baxter was anticipating praise.
“With Gideon down, only you could get our bearings effectively!”
Here it comes. Baxter was excited.
“You’ve been a really good boy!”
There it is! Baxter felt peace and joy.
Baxter let out a happy bark, mouth open in a doggy smile and did a jumping dance. He was a good boy.
“Mmm?” said Gideon from the corner.
Baxter ran at Gideon, jumping onto the bed, ambushing him with licks.
“You… Are… OK!” Baxter said in between licks.
“OK! OK! Calm down, Baxter! You beggar!”
Gideon laughed as he pushed the good dog off of him, trying to recover from the ambush.
“What happened?” Gideon said while laughing at the sudden ambush.
Baxter calmed down and sat at the foot of the bed.
“I had a Hind! And Excertius! Maps, dust, and iron! Run and Fast! Pulse rifle! I didn’t say pulse rifle!” Baxter was talking too fast.
Shindow floated over and translated, looking coy.
“We got samples of the ash, Baxter tested out Father’s latest inter-allied project of the MK A Hind, Excertius got renamed, and he mapped a good portion of this area. No sign of those Rumblers.”
“I’m beginning to analyze the strange ash dust and crystal samples. This moon is a strange one.”
“How so?” Gideon asked, feeling at his casted arm with concern.
“There are oxygen levels and breathable atmosphere. Temperatures are brisk but livable. It is fit for human survivability.
“The nearest sun shouldn’t be emitting temperatures enough for sustainable life. There is no known plantlife on the moon. For all intents, it should be a hellzone for humanity.”
“Empire of Dusk can stop time, building impossible vessels; I suspect terraforming a moon and keeping it running is on the list of their least impressive abilities,” Gideon dryly commented as he ran his good hand through his hair.
Baxter sat off to the side, listing intently. All he wanted was steak, a nap, and then digging in the strange dirt. And also running around in his giant Hind. He liked feeling taller. He missed what they were saying, lost in his own doggy world. He was shaken from his thoughts as Gideon redirected the conversation back to the ‘Exgesturs’.
“More good news! Wait, Baxter renamed Excertius? Isn’t that bad?” Gideon stopped and asked.
“Um, we’ll see,” Shindow trailed off, rolling her eyes.
Gideon eyed Baxter with a cocked eyebrow.
“It was confusing! I made it better,” Baxter tried to excuse himself with a chuff.
“But for now, let’s celebrate a successful mission! And may there be many more!”
“From off this moon, to the end of the universe,” Gideon finished, raising his casted arm.
“And many steaks!” Baxter chuffed.
“Well, I’m starving, so let’s eat!” Gideon announced.
All thirty-two Gnats were summoned in a cloud of orange light.
“Alright, kids! Set the table for dinner.” Shindow ordered.
The Gnats all gave a salute with one of their four half-circle hands. They’re happy, yet impassive faces were all the same, as they scurried about.
The Gnats flowed around the room like insects, dark orange light depositing the crates, dishes, and food. That night, the team feasted and enjoyed a good meal. The feast they enjoyed was of steak, wine, and simple provisions. Their morale was boosted by the successful mission.
Baxter enjoyed his good steak and spoke of many things, like running, digging, and not test firing his pulse rifle mounts. He also tried to justify renaming ‘Exerplumb’ to the laughter of Gideon and Shindow. That meant he was a really good dog.
Gideon flexed his hand inside the cast, remembering the dream. It would come off eventually, confirming or denying what he dreamed was real.
The being in black watched from afar, waiting atop a bluff of ash.