Livana pawed through her notes again,
desperate to find something she had overlooked.
She set aside the verified texts from the universities
and examined the folder of loose-leaf pages
marked "unverified" and "thus it was written,"
full of mistakes and probable nonsense
and, just maybe, things the scientists didn't know.
There was a map of Mruuna origin
for the edge of the Crystal Desert,
marked with symbols for water and food and shelter.
Livana was lost, so she had no idea
where on the map she might be;
but at least this way she could look for landmarks.
The maps from the Empire were useless for this --
they focused on political boundaries or scientific finds.
Livana wandered for days, getting thirstier all the time.
She could do without food for quite a while;
she knew the hunger was merely uncomfortable.
She could not do without water, not for long.
She eyed the fat globes of star cactus
and moved away; the natives in the area
called it "madpot" for a reason.
The Mruuna notes on this area
were cryptic and contradictory.
Livana eventually found her way
to a supposed waterhole,
but to her intense disappointment,
it held only dry sand and cacti.
Livana reviewed a verified abstract on star cactus
and a garble of unverified reports about madpot
that described the widely varied effects of the plant.
It could provide a life-saving supply of moisture --
but it could just as easily kill her or drive her insane,
and it grew best in places of deadly danger.
Desperate for water, Livana broke open
the smallest globes and sucked the bitter pulp.
It left her feeling queasy and agitated,
unable to concentrate on anything.
Her vision smeared and blurred,
veils of red and blue appearing dimly in the air.
She staggered to her feet and started walking,
trying to avoid the giddy colors.
At least the cactus had revived her energy
enough to get her moving again.
At twilight, Livana stumbled into a Mruuna village.
They weren't Purists, but they were very traditional,
taking a dim view of women and scientists.
The men scolded her for foolishly getting lost
in the Crystal Desert. They were right.
She could have been killed.
But Livana had survived getting lost,
even survived eating madpot, and
somehow wrung usable information
out of unverified babble as it was written.
She still had her notes from the whole trip,
even the loopy ones written under the influence.
Let the old men complain.
She was going home in one piece
with research in hand.
That was good enough by her book.
* * *
If you're a registered reader over on Torn World (which is free to do) then you can read the article about the Crystal Desert.
The Mruuna article and Star Cactus article are visible to the public.