Dunes over Danvar Bunker Michael

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Knot 1: Dunes Over Danvar.

Chapter One

His daddy always told him that during any kind of rush, the real coin wasn’t in the doing of a thing—at least not for most people—but in providing the supply and support for the doers.

“When a rush comes, only ten percent make any real coin,” his daddy always said. “It’s a loser’s game, boy. Don’t matter what kind of rush it is—gold, oil, salvage from the old times,” he’d say. “People die to pull up ancient panties from a quarter mile down, boy, and only ten percent or less get rich. Forty percent will lose a bunch of coin—or worse. The bottom fifty percent will get their lives took away. That’s in any rush. Any rush at all. Dyin’ ain’t to be taken lightly, boy. Dyin’ for coin is like drownin’ yourself ’cause you’re thirsty.”

The Poet’s daddy was dead now these twenty years, and he himself was pushing on into his sixties. But his daddy’s words always informed him, had always been in his ear, ever since he was a boy learning to tinker and fix dive suits.

“In a rush, the people who survive and thrive are the people sellin’ to the doers. Always. Every time. Doers’ll pay any price in a rush. Don’t you ever forget that, son. They tell you they found gold? You sell ’em shovels. They say they found Danvar? You be the one sellin’ dive gear, fixin’ regulators, makin’ their visors work, haulin’ packs, repairin’ sarfers. That’s where the solid coin is. Dependable. All of time and every grain of this sand bears witness to what I’m sayin’.”

The Poet pressed back in the haul rack, flexing his thighs, and settled himself against his gear bag. His tools pressed into his side, but he was happy to be riding and not sailing. Glad not to be working for free. His sarfing days were over, and that was part of his deal with Bolger. “I don’t sail, I ride,” was what he told the boss. Still, even though he didn’t sail a sarfer, he expected he’d still be the most important man on the team. He had to believe that. Why else would Bolger take a seasoned old vet out on the dunes? Why else did everyone want to hire the Poet?

Then the Poet’s daddy always said, “Make yourself valuable, son. Become necessary—what they used to call ‘mission critical.’ Sand diver’s the most replaceable species of man in all the world of the sand. Sand diver’s just like the sand, in fact. Their comin’ is endless, like the rush, like the sift. You kill ’em all and a thousand-thousand’ll take their places. Every boy who hates the sand wants to be up un’erneath it, lookin’ to get rich so he can buy a way to avoid the sand. Drownin’ ’cause he’s thirsty.”

So the Poet grew up with hard wisdom. And now, in his sixties, he was everyman. He was porter and tinker, supply clerk, mechanic, technician. He was an advisor to the bosses. A black-market wizard he was. A man who found out things that needed to be known, for the right price, and only to the right buyer. He was no spy, though. Spies got themselves killed just like sand divers. The Poet was on this expedition because he’d made himself irreplaceable, just like his daddy had said. Every dive team in all of Low-Pub and all the Thousand Dunes wanted to hire the Poet. Too, all the way up to Springston, they say. Expedition leaders even stopped by when he was already hired, trying to lure him away with coin or women or both. But the Poet could never be hired away once he had a job going. That was nothing but a good way to get dead. His value was increased by his loyalty. And who needed a woman anyway?

The sweat drenched his old body. He wore a dive suit up under his robes. Nobody knew this but him, and if anyone ever found out, it would make him the target of ridicule—a risk worth taking, in his eyes. So he had a full suit on, and a visor in his gear bag, too. You never know when a brigand is going to break every law of the dunes and man and use the sand as a weapon. Everyone knew the axiomatic law of the sand and humanity, but what is law to a brigand? Nothing. So the Poet wore his dive suit, and suffered the heat. No way was he going to lose his fortune because he minded the heat.

They were far up north now. Way up in the wastes. Even Springston was far behind them. This was dying land for divers, and the Poet knew it. Everyone out looking for Danvar, and a diver’s life wasn’t worth scoop out in the wastes. And the divers were everywhere. Sarfer sails in every direction, setting out willy-nilly, divers looking to become gods.

The Poet breathed through his ker and looked around. This team wasn’t any better. There was nothing scientific about the search or the searchers. Like everyone else, when word came that Danvar was found, this crew got plugged together from whoever could do the job. Mix and match. Whoever was around and had a reputation for work. Except the divers. Divers are like the sand, and there’s always plenty of them looking to be the one to find Danvar. To be a god. Everyone on this team was expendable. Except the Poet, he told himself. Bolger was the boss man, and when he had come for the Poet, Bolger had made sure that everyone knew that this man wasn’t expendable. The team needed him if they wanted to survive. He wasn’t like the sand at all. He was like the air between the sand. Precious, and surrounded by expendables.

Chapter Two

Peary’s sarfer was buffeted by the wind and almost toppled over as he crested a dune, but he was able to keep it from tumbling by the intense application of toned muscles, experience, and will. Maybe there was some luck, too. He didn’t know what luck might be made of—what ingredients outside of intelligence and will could ever cause something to happen—but he took whatever he could get.

He brought the craft safely down into a deep trough between the largest dunes in the area and came to a full stop. Lowering the sails, dropping the mast, and tying everything off was just a matter of rote muscle memory. He didn’t have to think. Besides his mind was on the dive.

They say that only a fool dives alone. He’d heard that one all his life, but with the things he’d seen in just the past year Peary was now convinced that the smart divers only went out alone. Fifty miles south he’d seen dozens of sarfer sails scattering to the winds like drone bees looking for a new home, but for the past twenty he’d been all alone in the dunes. Finding the right low spot served a few purposes. It meant he could hide his sarfer and perhaps not attract attention from brigands, scofflaws, or other divers (and many times, all of those terms described the same set of people). Also, finding a hollow like this meant he already had a fifty- to seventy-five-foot lead on his dive. Maybe even a hundred. Of course, finding a low spot to dive didn’t mean there’d be anything down there to find. He wasn’t diving here because he knew he’d find Danvar here. He was diving here because Danvar just as well could be here. Other divers used science, or scraps of old maps, or the stars in their courses, but Peary had tried all of those ways—and he’d paid plenty for the privilege of proving the old adage about a fool and his coin.

Some divers had a knack for salvage, and others just hoped to get lucky. Peary was of the latter sort, and he was wary of the former. There was a fine line between having a knack, and getting noticed. Only a few divers got famous without getting killed soon after, because a rich diver who didn’t retire became a nice target. Some even achieved levels of fame that bordered on legend. But fame wasn’t for Peary. Better to keep your head down and just dive.

He checked his dive suit and extra batteries, and when he saw that they were all fully charged, he unplugged them from the wind generator at the aft end of the sarfer. He grabbed a reinforced plastic gear box from the hauler, disconnected the wind generator, and stowed it in the box.

Time to secure his stuff. He’d brought a supply of parts, some extra air tanks—not just extra for the dive, but extra even over and above what he planned on taking down with him—and two more canteens of water. Those last had cost him time and coin—coin he’d borrowed from Marisa—but you can never be too careful. And there was an extra dive suit and visor, too. All of these he’d bury on the other side of the dune as soon as he was suited up. If someone stole his sarfer, he wanted to have at least an outside chance of living to dive another day. Burying gear nearby wouldn’t thwart an experienced and professional band of brigands, but most dune thieves were opportunists and not professionals.

Peary took a quick sand bath, rubbing the hot silica over his body, drying up some of the sweat, and then he started to suit up. The dive suit was hot and the soft rubber felt like it was burning his skin. This part of diving always made him work faster. It made him long for the cool chill of depth. He shouldered the twin tanks and dragged the two extras behind him, pulled on his visor and did a thorough check, even while his body was crying for the relief of the deep. The two tanks on his back pulled downward—toward Danvar, he hoped.

He’d never even attempted to dive more than two fifty. Never once. Hadn’t even wanted to. Around two hundred meters was always his personal limit. Today, he’d go deeper. He didn’t yet know how much deeper. He needed to pay Marisa back. At least the coin she’d lent him; the rest he could never repay. The love and care she gave him were priceless. How she continued to love him despite his folly, he’d never know. Sweet Marisa. Wearing herself out under a haulpole day after day so that he could dive salvage.

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