A wet tongue rolled across my face, hot breath blowing into my face with a deep woof. I said something intelligent, like ‘Berglmcshammy’ as my blue, bloodshot eyes snap open. I raised my hand to my slobbery face and stared into the panting face of my German Shepherd. ‘Hero? Get off.’
Another low woof in reply, and I pushed him away. ‘I know, I know. Time to get going.’ My mouth felt like I’d been at Mama Jean’s moonshine all last night, so I could only imagine how Hero must be doing.
At least he’s a shorthair. I met one Watermapper out of Mountainside who had an Old English Sheepdog. Personally I’m surprised the poor creature was still going. Hero put him to shame though. The Sheepdog had completely missed a potential mining site, but Hero had found it. That’s another tick in the box.
I rolled off my sleeping mat and crawled into the morning sun. Felt my vertebrae click one after the other as I rolled my spine. Some people say it’s good for me, some don’t. I don’t care. Makes me feel better. Especially after a night on the ground. I watched as Hero bounded off excitedly into the distance. I hoped it was water this time, though I could do with some breakfast. My stomach grumbled loudly in reply.
The dog came back with a sad looking lump of fur in his jaws. ‘Thanks Hero. Good boy.’ He dropped the sorry mess at my feet and looked up at me with those big eyes of his. ‘Squirrel?’ I said sarcastically. He wasn’t going to realise, he was a dog. ‘I love squirrel!’ I hate squirrel. I fussed him anyway. He had just bought me breakfast.
I dealt with it. Food is food out here in the desert. Skinned it slowly then roasted it over an open fire. Fires were certainly not hard to come by out here. But water was the real reason we were out here. Irwin Johnson, Watermapper First Class. Accompanied by Hero, German Shepherd. That’s what it said on our cards. That’s how much this world relies on water, the people who go find it get trading cards made for them.
I could have been a miner, down at that new lake they’d found beneath Tartarus. At least then I’d get to settle, instead of gallivanting across the waste all the time. Could have been a trader with one of the caravans running from the desalination plants on the coast. But instead, I’d fallen for the propaganda and joined the Watermappers. Those damn posters, Lord Kitchener and that stupid finger of his.
JOIN THE ELITES
SEE THE WORLD
I’ve seen a lot of the world. Most of it is sand, pitted with sad little settlements that are wilting in the heat. Occasionally, there’s darker sand. I saw the remains of a tree once, that was fun.
But I’ve gotten off track. We saddled up for the day after the tasty, tasty squirrel. I placed that beaten up helmet back on my head and started the engine. The bike was definitely due for a clean out tonight. Sand gets everywhere. I let Hero have a few sips of water then raised the bottle to my lips. It was going to be a hot one. We could do with finding something today.
Hero dived into the sidecar and looked up at me. ‘What?’ His eyes seemed to be screaming at me to go. ‘Alright, alright. Stop nagging.’ And we set off across the sands.
Me and Hero go way back. First day that I’d entered the Mappers Academy, I’d been hit by a streaking missile of fluff. He couldn’t have been more than eight weeks old, but he packed a punch. I’d picked him up and looked into those big, brown eyes of his. ‘I’m not getting attached to you.’ I’d told him.
Hero’s tongue lolled out of his mouth in the breeze. If he barked, it was once for a water source and twice for a foreign scent.
He woofed, once.
‘Woof right back at you.’ I told him. I checked the POC, the wrist computer that showed two things. Active sites and recently flagged. It was one of the four essentials of the Watermapper. POC, Shotgun, Radio and Dog. That’s right, even the bike isn’t essential. It’s just easy because fuel’s cheaper than water.
POC showed a site nearby, flagged by Pentecost. He was from Olympus Settlement, one of the best Watermappers in the world. Definitely worth checking out. I gunned the engine, rolling us across the dunes toward the site.
That’s when Hero barked twice. Officially, that’s a foreign scent. Any Mapper worth his salt knows what it really means though.
Raiders. Waterchasers. There’s a society of them out here, living as nomads. They’ll do anything to keep the Mappers away. I looked down at Hero, breaking the shotgun over my arm as I did so.
‘Come on then, Hero. Let’s get them, boy.’
The Idiot in Tin Foil