Best Policy

an excerpt



Chapter One

Damn this ever-increasing rain! Where the hell was it all coming from? One minute the sky was clear, the next thick black clouds had appeared and, without warning, a deluge hit. If it wasn't for the fact they weren't on Earth, Rafe might have thought it was a replay of the great flood. Then again, how could anyone compare Delta to Earth? The ball of rock was only about two-thirds the size of Earth, and from orbit it looked like nothing more than a spinning circle of brown and beige. It even made Alkya look good.

Rafe pulled his hood farther forward, but it was already so heavy with water that the stuff just sluiced off and ran down his face. You'd think by now someone could have invented anti-rain gear that actually worked, instead of ending up with you even more fucking wet. 'Course, this was all Adam's fault. Rafe slipped a hand into his pocket and fingered the rolled-up notebook he'd stuffed in there as he'd left the tent at their campsite. The man was a linguist, yet his handwriting looked worse than the scribblings he studied. How on earth he made sense of the stuff was beyond Rafe, but then he was a simple soldier, not one of the science types he looked after. But the lieutenant was adamant he needed his notebook--now--and as there was no one else available, and as Adam had queried in that innocent way of his, what else did Rafe have to do really?

He looked up the hill and saw he didn't have far to go to reach the plateau on which the towering temple sat. Well, they still weren't positive it was a temple, but it sure did look regal perched up there, all tall columns and arches with a domed roof. Adam was pretty convinced it was a temple though; he'd identified what he called a sacrificial basin in one of the inner rooms. Rafe couldn't help but smile as he recalled the excitement in Adam's voice as he explained it to him. Not that Rafe was really taking it all in; he was happy enough just to watch the way Adam lit up when he got all hot and bothered like that.

The last few feet of the climb were the hardest. His boots kept sinking in the increasingly boggy earth. The sucking sound as he pulled his feet free yet again seemed to mock him and only added to his frustration. It was with relief that Rafe finally set his feet on the plateau. He took a moment to get his breath, then began walking again. He hadn't gone very far when he heard a deep rumbling; he felt it, too, under his feet. He stopped, looking down at the earth for a moment before lifting his gaze to the hill rising above and behind the temple. The noise came again, but this time it was followed by a loud, harsh creaking sound. Rafe knew, he didn't know how, but he knew. It began little by little, almost in slow motion. He started to run.

"Adam!" he yelled, his eyes tracking the movement on the hill above. "Landslide! Get out!"

Rafe didn't even know if Adam could hear him. The man was working inside, near the rear entrance. God, Adam would probably be too caught up in his work to hear him anyway. Rafe had never known anyone with such focused concentration.

"Adam," he screamed, "for God's sake, run!" The landslide was hurtling down the hill, and Rafe was too far away. He knew it would reach the rear of the temple before he did. He did the only thing he could, he flung himself against the front of the temple, praying its height would shield him from the tons of earth and mud thundering down from above.

Rafe waited only long enough to be sure it had passed either side of the huge building. He was grateful to find the front entrance untouched and he rushed inside, careening through the myriad of small rooms to reach the rear where Adam was working. He slid to a halt when he saw the debris and mud filling the back entrance. Only the tip of the stele where Adam was working stood visible.

"Adam," he bellowed. "Adam!" He couldn't lose him, he couldn't. Nothing meant more to Rafe than Adam. If he hadn't known before, he knew in that instant he loved Adam Deacon to distraction. Where was he? Oh, God, please!

It was the flash of color amidst the sea of grey muck that caught his eye. Just a few inches of bright blue. One of Adam's quirks was that, along with his trusty brush, he always carried a few blue cloths with him to clear away dust and dirt. Rafe realized he was seeing one of Adam's legs with the cloth peeking out of his pocket. Soon he was scrambling to shove the clinging muddy earth aside and drag Adam free. Luckily, Adam had been working close to the rear wall between it and the stele, so when the landslide had surged through, he was caught up in the edge of it. If he had been working on the forward side of the stele, it was likely by the time Rafe found him he'd have been long dead.

As it was, Adam was unconscious. From what Rafe could tell, the surge had shoved Adam against the far side of the stele and it looked as if he had struck his head on the stone. He was lying face down and his mouth and nasal passages were clear. A cursory examination showed Adam's pulse was steady and his breathing seemed normal. Rafe scrabbled to find his pack, which he had left with Adam, but he couldn't find it. Cursing, he knew it had to be here somewhere. He uncovered Adam's pack, but it'd been slammed against the wall and was in a bad state.

Fuck, where is it? Please let the comm-unit be in one piece.

He finally dug out his pack, sighing with relief when it looked a damn sight better than Adam's. He took out the comm-unit.

"Alkya, Wheaton here. We have an emergency." He waited for a response, but nothing happened. "Alkya, come in. Major Wheaton reporting from Delta. We need help." He tried twice more, only to be greeted by the same silence.

The rain was still coming down heavily outside and Rafe didn't know if another landslide would be forthcoming. Staying in the temple wasn't an option. He thought about carrying Adam to the campsite below, but he thought it possible, even likely, that the landslide had swept it away, too. Rafe wasn't sure if he could carry him down anyway; he would likely be following the same path as the landslide and it could be impassable. No, he needed somewhere out of the line of the landslide, but not far and under cover. He could take a better look at Adam and hopefully get the comm-unit working.

There was only one place--a small cave Rafe had found when he first checked out the area shortly after their arrival. Rafe picked up Adam, cradled him to his chest, and moved out.

Rafe moved carefully as he slogged through the pouring rain, Adam's dead weight was difficult to manage. He was grateful that Adam was out of it just now. It was bad enough being hurt without having to feel the freezing cold. Surely that cave was somewhere close by. It wasn't particularly big, but enough to shelter from this damned weather. Maybe he'd even be able to build a fire? What a wonderful thought, just the idea of being warm again. There, he saw it, just off to the right, a dark slash in the hillside. Rafe stumbled as he bent to enter the narrow entrance and Adam slid from his grip to land heavily on the rock floor. Rafe quickly knelt by his side, feeling his forehead, but his temperature hadn't changed. He checked Adam's breathing and his pulse but all was still steady and regular.

Rafe used one of Adam's blue cloths to clean his face and rub the muck from his hair. Walking through the heavy rain from the temple to the cave had washed away some of the mud but Rafe wanted to make Adam as comfortable as possible.

Rafe made a quick check of his surroundings and decided the best place to settle was against the back wall and he carefully moved Adam there. Rafe shrugged off his pack and dug into it and pulled out his blanket, which he quickly wrapped around Adam. He set about making a small fire, it wouldn't be possible to build much of one in this small cave.

When he'd finished he sat beside Adam and quickly pulled his comm-unit out to try once more to contact base. Yet again he was met with silence. He was no engineer but he had a general idea how the unit worked. He checked Adam again but there was no change. He made himself comfortable leaning against the cave wall, with Adam's head resting in his lap, while he got to work trying to see if there was anything he could do to get the comm-unit working.

A few hours had passed and still Rafe couldn't get any better results with the comm-unit. It seemed they were on their own. He just wished that Adam would wake up. He had been pretty still and mostly quiet, just the odd moan. Rafe lay his hand on Adam's forehead and leaned his head back against the wall. He was so tired; a little rest would do him good.

On waking and checking the time Rafe was surprised to find that three hours had passed. He suddenly felt guilty, almost as if he had deserted Adam for those few hours. He quickly checked Adam's condition to find nothing had changed. He couldn't stand the fear he felt and needed Adam to open his eyes. Please. "Wake up, Adam. Please, come on! Open those eyes, please." Rafe knew he sounded desperate, but how else was he supposed to feel when his best friend had been out for hours and showed no signs of waking? Now, absently stroking Adam's brow as the young man lay across his lap, Rafe continued to speak to him, trying to send comfort and support. After what seemed an eternity, Adam stirred a little.

"Adam, come on, come on...that's it," Rafe said, joyful relief filling him as Adam finally showed some sign of waking, even if it was only the flickering of eyelids. It was the first movement he had made since the landslide almost twelve hours ago. "It's me--Rafe. Open your eyes..." Please! Rafe wanted to shake him, but was afraid to add to any brain injury he may have already suffered.

"Mmm..."

The first sound from Adam's mouth had Rafe sighing. He often wanted to shut Adam up, but now, all he wanted was to hear his voice.

"That's it," Rafe murmured, gently stroking Adam's cheek.

"Shhh...let me sleep now." Adam gave a languid smile, his eyes still closed. "You can--" he laughed, trying to squirm closer against Rafe's thigh, which was doing nothing for Rafe's already shaken self-control "--disturb me again in the morning."

As if the movements weren't enough, the sultry tone of Adam's voice jolted Rafe. He realized Adam must be dreaming, and what a dream, if his tone was any indication. Rafe couldn't help wondering who was sharing Adam's dream to make him sound like that. The very idea someone other than he could make Adam feel so good tightened Rafe's gut. He shook his head. Now was so not the time for such thoughts.

"No, Adam, now. Wake up now!" Rafe demanded, speaking close to Adam's ear, hoping to get through to the man.

"Veerry pushy...you already wore me out."

"What?" Rafe gritted his teeth. Oh God, I wish it could be me he was dreaming about. "Adam," he shouted.

"Raaafe...tired, so tired..." Adam's eyelids flickered and, for the first time, Rafe saw a hint of blue, but all too soon they drifted shut again.

"Aw, I know, Adam but you can't sleep now. Open your eyes, damn it!" This time Rafe resorted to slapping Adam's cheek, and the younger man muttered in one of his many languages. Rafe smiled, imagining what the words would have been in English. Adam could curse fluently in each language, as Rafe knew from long experience.

At last, Adam's eyes blearily opened and he frowned, trying to focus.

"That's it, that's it. Can you see me?" Rafe asked, peering at his friend.

"Can't see anything but a grey fuzz. Turn up the light."

Rafe sighed, hoping it was just a lack of light and not a symptom of a serious concussion. "Sorry, Adam, there's no more light at the moment. We're in a cave and the only light we have available is from the small fire I started. I had hoped for the addition of some moonlight, but there isn't any tonight."

"We're not at the Alkya base?" Adam sounded puzzled and looked around, trying to see what he could in the gloom, but it was obvious from the way he was squinting he couldn't see much. Then his gaze settled on Rafe and he looked more confused than ever. His mouth opened, but no words were forthcoming.

Rafe felt Adam squirm a little against him, followed by the squishing sound of cloth rubbing on cloth. "What'cha doin'?" he asked.