"Everything you need to live is out here. Nature will provide you with food, water, clothes. You only need to know how to ask for it, and look in the right places. Everything you will ever need can be learned here." Father kept talking as he always did, with a passion for the land we lived in that no foreigner, especially one from the Poles, would ever understand.
We were enjoying a fine evening in the Badlands. Only a couple of hours of light remained, and the sky was beginning to fill with different shades of pink and red. The stony plateaus of the Badlands seemed extremely quiet, silent except for the whistling of the wind and the sounds Father and I made while riding the springers. And temperature was cooling, not as freezing as the night would be, but not as warm as the passing day would be.
"For example, you can see no place to find water, right?" I looked around, although I knew there were no farms or oasis in sight. Eleven cycles old, I already knew every inch of this land than was our home. "Not even a single waterroot around, no big plants, nothing." I shook my head, knowing he would show my some new way to obtain water in the Badlands. And that was always something good to know.
"Can you see those rocks over there? They are actually plants. They protect from the heat with a shell, which also helps them to hide from predators. They call them turtleroot. I suppose some plant from Old Terra was called that way. I don't really know, but I do know some things about them." He jumped from the springer with a grace that only cycles of practice could give. I followed him to the rock-plants, and saw how he used his knife to dig one out of the ground.
"Ya see? Inside the shell it is soft, and you can eat it. It does not taste well, and it does not have as much water as a waterroot, but it will help you. But you have to look out." He carefully removed layer after layer of the soft insides of the plant and showed me a worm-like red creature that was moving inside. "The redrringers like to go inside of them and eat them. If there is one of these little buggers inside, you have to be careful. They secrete a substance that can be poisonous to us humans. So you'd better find another turtleroot and try again. This may not kill you, but the cramps can make you wish you had died." He grinned while he said this. "Believe me, I learned the hard way. And it is something you do not forget easily. Everything you need is out here, but that does not mean it will be easy to get."
After the lesson we rode for a while, getting closer to Viejo's Farm. Viejo was not his name, but everybody called him Old Man, and he had been born in the Protectorate, so translating it to his mother language seemed to make sense. And, most importantly, he did not like being called Viejo, so the nickname stuck among the homesteaders of the county. If you did not like being called in a certain way, it would be better for you to shut up instead of trying to correct a stubborn Badlander.
"Look at that." Father told me while he pointed at a pack of hoppers that were chasing a fleeing little creature. I did not realize what it was until one of the lizard-like creatures got to it and bit it. It seemed like a dawg, but it had not fully developed yet. It did not have much chance against a pack of fang hoppers. "Nature is not merciful. You have to learn to survive out here. Nobody said it is easy, but believe me, it beats living in those overpopulated places the Polars like so much. Let's wait a little while, I think the lesson is not over yet."
While the hoppers were getting their share of meat from their prey, a hissing sound could be heard. Two adult desert dawgs ran towards the feeding animals and killed two of them before the others could react. This time, they had no chance. All of them tried to flee, but two others fell easily. The two dawgs seemed enraged.
"Seems like Pa and Ma don't like what happened to their little baby. Pity they did not get sooner." As he always liked to say, life was not easy. "Revenge will not give it back to them but at least they will make sure those hoppers don't do that again."
* * *
When we got within sight of Viejo's homestead, something called their attention. The automatic sentries seemed to be gone, and that was something no sane Badlander would ever permit. And the farm seemed awfully quiet. At this time people should be getting ready to have dinner, and probably be singing or shouting in the common room. Father took his rifle from the saddle and made the springer get closer to the farm. The waterroot fields seemed to be fine, but some of the solar panels had dissapeared and the rest had been destroyed. And the farm itself showed signs of a battle: broken walls, and there were tracks from a large number of riding springers around. All damage seemed to have been made not many days ago.
"Damn. Keep here." Father rode to the farm and went inside. When he came out a few minutes later, he looked very serious. He took the radio that I carried in my springer and turned it on. "Hey there! Viejo is gone. Yeah, looks like last night. Yeah, I can track them. OK, bring them... they went west from here. Yeah, I will not try anything on my own, and I have my kid here. No, of course I will not leave him alone. OK."
He looked at me gravely. "Well, son, looks like de dawgs have to make sure the hoppers don't do that again." He checked the heavy rifle, made sure it was loaded, and signed for me to follow him. We went west.
As he liked to say, everything you will ever need can be learned here.
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