While the Patrol might be filling his head with imaginary dangers in an effort to trick him into readying for false alarms, and so exercise his ability to prepare for the real thing, he still faced verifiably real danger on his journey across that squalid moon. Namely, his supply of food and water was more than halfway consumed. Cautious taste tests of the trustworthy looking plants he encountered led him to conclude that while the fungus was quite inedible, the tall grass had “roots” which he could stomach if he forced himself. He couldn’t speak of their nutritional value, but he hoped it would be enough to carry him until pickup day. He suspected he would come to miss the tough jerky and self-heating sludge of the Patrol rations.
That still left him with the problem of water, and as he hustled to make up time lost experimenting with the plants, the jostle of his water jug felt uncomfortably light.
He came to the top of a boulder and saw, off to his right, hope: there was a deep gully or ravine that resembled a river. Casting away caution he slid down the boulder and practically leaped to it, only to be disappointed. It was a river, all right, or rather, it appeared to have been one once. The smooth, carved sides held nothing but dust, grass and stillness. He would find no water there. Damn it to hell.
Chagrined, he bounced down into the riverbed, kicking up dust which slowly settled again. The grass was a bit thicker here, perhaps feeding on a greater concentration of ice in the soil, but unless he could find a way to separate the water from the dirt he wouldn’t be able to do the same. That was when he saw that the opposite side of the riverbed was covered in drawings.
The images appeared as if they had been freshly scratched into the weathered stone. The work of ptus! Supposed to be the work of Ptus, Raker corrected his thought wryly. This isn’t real - this is another illusion. Makes my skin crawl just the same. He was about to dismiss the primitive etchings when their shaky lines came together and he realized what they depicted.
There was a man. Not the insectile form of a Ptu, but a human man, clutching a knife and clearing a field of scant Palladian vegetation. Another man, or perhaps the same one, setting fire to what he identified as the “zuff” creature his teachers had concocted for him. And here was yet another man, this one wielding a bow and with it menacing a group of the imaginary Ptus in their holes. Above it all, a marching army of men emerging from a large, ovoid structure: a space-pod.
Raker was stunned. He stood staring at the scratches, completely unable to comprehend their meaning. Was this supposedly put here by Ptus, documenting the incursion of humans on their little planet? Was it some kind of trick, planted in his mind and meant to make him wonder… what? What would be the point of making him see something like this? Then, as he watched, the scratches became harder to distinguish from the roughness of the rock, and shapes weren’t discernible at all. The riverside appeared as it had before he noticed the pictures.
So was it all in his head, then? This seemed to confirm it. Whether a trick or simply his overactive imagination, the illustrations had not really been there, and he had been seeing things.
The thought gave him no comfort. If he were hallucinating already it wasn’t likely he would make it off this rock alive. Uncontrolled delusions (that's to say, those which were not put there on purpose), would no doubt lead him astray and make it difficult for him to discern what was part of the test and what was betrayal by his own mind.
Another thought occurred to him. It had been documented that the life on Jupiter’s moon Callisto possessed a telepathic ability; specifically, creatures from that world could project their emotions into the minds of others. No one knew if it went further than that - it was difficult to ask a Callistan if images accompanied the feelings, as they had no language and did not seem interested in contacting human minds - but through them science had come to recognize telepathy as a naturally occurring possibility. What if… perhaps… the Ptus possessed the same ability, without the taboo on touching the mind of a man? Here on Pallas, he was forced to survive off the land, which a territorial species might regard as theft. The Ptus might resent his intrusion into their world. They might be in his head even now, attempting to communicate their distaste toward his kind, or manipulating him to some unpleasant end...
No, thinking like that would quickly lead to madness, especially on this silent, lonesome world. It had been his imagination, or maybe a facet of the test he would come to comprehend later, but not phantom Palladians. For now, he needed to focus on survival, and that meant water.
He hurried down the dry riverbed, which carried him in about the direction he wanted to go, in search of something to waylay his inevitable thirst.
I made an effort here to emulate your style and paragraph structure - no indentations and a bit more "voice" in my writing, if you get what I mean. I hope I've properly executed you plot idea - that the Palladians might be the ones doing the manipulating. If not, I will gladly rewrite this bit - just lemme know. I look forward to your next segment, they are always well done!
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