|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 1||February, 2001|
The desert wind moaned, lifting clouds of swirling sands high in the air, washing over the endless dunes in shimmering waves, like an ebbing tide. In swirling gouts and twisting columns the sands drifted with the wind, rolling across the vast expanses of the Karaq Wastes, its travels broken only by the occasional stone or jagged chasm rending the desert floor. In the skies above, Helios shone with a terrible brilliance, casting a stark, unforgiving light over the scorched, barren landscape. The dunes shimmered with the oppressive heat of a raging inferno, glistening tendrils of hot air hovering just above the sands, elusive and fleeting, confounding the senses. In all directions, the same barren desolation stretched as far as any eye could see. For the two riders slowly making their way across the dunes, it was a grim reminder of how alone they were in the vast open wilds of the Badlands.
They rode in single file, one behind the other, their aging barnabus lizards trudging forward over the shifting lands with heavy, laborious steps, burdened as they were with all manner of supplies. The riders sat low in their low in their saddles, leaning against the wind, their dark desert cloaks snapping in the breeze. Desert goggles kept the stinging sands from their eyes, while respirator mask spared their lungs the hot, dusty desert air. With practiced hands they guided their mounts over the dunes, and across the sands, pressing onward, into the heart of the Wastes.
In the lead, Alexander reigned in his mount on the crest of a tall dune, ignoring the groan of discontent from the aged beast. From within the fold of his cloak, he brought forth a battered pair of binoculars, fumbling to free them from their mooring with gloved hands. Standing in the saddle, he set his goggles back on his forehead, and brought the binoculars to his eyes, looking out to the distant horizon. The desert stared back at him, the vastness of the Wastes all the more pronounced. Alexander leaned back, tucking the binoculars away, turning his attention to the navigation pad clipped to his belt. Pulling off one glove, he grimaced at the stinging heat of the sun on his bare skin, squinting as he stared at the display.
A low chuckle caught Alexander by surprise, the navigation pad falling from his hands to the sands below. Cursing, Alexander slid his goggles back over his eyes, and swung off his mount, dropping to the sand to retrieve his instrument as the second rider crested the dune. The sands seized Alexander the instant he touched the ground, swelling up around his ankles, pulling at his boots with every step, the moaning wind tugging at his clothing and lifting sand to obscure his vision. The three steps required to reach the blinking navigation pad proved far more difficult than Alexander would have liked, his fatigue evident. Kneeling in the sand, he picked up the navigation pad, brushing the grit from the display screen. Bowing his head, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, almost gagging on the foul, dry air provided by his respirator. Gathering his strength, he then rose to his feet, and trudged back to his mount, leaning up against the beast as shelter against the wind.
The second rider drew up beside Alexander, and stared out over the desert ahead, soothing his restless mount with whispered words and a gentle hand. Then, after a moment, the rider turned to Alexander, shifting slightly in his saddle.
"Ca va, Alexander?" he asked, mirth evident in his voice, muffled as it was by the respirator and the ever-present whistle of the desert wind. Reaching down to his belt, the second rider freed a canteen, and tossed it to Alexander.
Sheltered now by the two lizards, Alexander crouched and pulled off his goggles, rubbing at the red rings around his eyes where the goggles had rested against his skin. The flesh was tender, and burned where his gloved fingers pressed against it. Wincing, he turned his attention to the heavy respirator, fumbling with the clasps that held it in place. After a moments struggle, clearing sand and dust from the clips and adjustors, he pulled the heavy apparatus off. The hot desert air stung his lungs, and the blazing sun above made his exposed skin tingle. Gasping, he picked up the offered canteen, twisting the cap off and raising it to his cracked and bleeding lips. The hot metal mouth of the canteen burned where it touched his lips. Hot tepid water coursed over his parched, swollen tongue, washing away the stale, rubbery taste of the respirator. Lowering the canteen, he let out a long sigh.
"Eh toi, remis ton masque. La soleil te brule."
The words of his companion snapped Alexander back to the realm of the conscious. Cursing silently, he fumbled for his respirator, now painfully aware of the blisters already forming on his exposed cheeks and nose. Stumbling to his feet, Alexander set his goggles back in place, settling over the red creases in his skin, hot plastic rubbing against tender flesh. Stale, putrid air once more filled his lungs as he climbed back atop his mount. Settled in place, he tossed the canteen back to his companion, who caught it against his chest.
"Ou maintenant Alexander? Quesque votre p'tit maudit ordinateur nous dis, eh?"
Alexander shrugged, and turned his attentions once more to his navigation pad, tapping at the screen with fumbling fingers. The tiny device hummed and whirred in his hand, the screen flickering rapidly as it sought to connect with the array of navigation satellites in the heavens above. Alexander frowned as the display flickered with increasing regularity, and then abruptly went dark, thin tendrils of black smoke curling out of the back of the machine. Eyes wide with horror, Alexander shook the device, as though further violence would bring about a miraculous recovery. His companion chuckled again, shaking his head. Alexander looked up, near panic, the useless device still clutched in his hands.
"Mon p'tit Alexander..." began the other, but Alexander cut him off.
"Are you finding this amusing? That navigation pad was our last best hope. Without any sense of direction, we could wander in circles out here for a dozen years and never know it. And sweet Jesu, speak Anglic!" Alexander snapped, tossing the useless navigation pad to the ground.
A silence fell between the two riders for a time, broken only by the haunting groans of the desert wind. Alexander shifted in his saddle, staring off to the distant horizon, fighting the growing apprehension swelling in his chest. His companion shook his head, and kicked his mount into motion, guiding the animal down the slope of the rolling dune. Alexander watched as his companion moved off, bewildered.
"Ah merde, where are you going?" he shouted.
His companion reigned in his mount at the base of the dune, waving for Alexander to follow. With his free hand he gestured vaguely toward the ever distant horizon. In broken Anglic he called back,
"We came to the desert for a reason, Alexander. Will we let a broken toy deny us that which we seek? Forget your computers young one, the desert will show us the way."
Stammering for a reply, Alexander found himself at a loss for words, a rare enough occurrence. Shrugging his shoulders, resigned to his fate, he guided his mount down the slope of the dune. Ahead, his companion resumed the advance, still chuckling quietly beneath his mask. Alexander ignored the faint echoes of laughter drifting to his ears on the desert wind, and instead turned his attentions to the sun. It filled the sky above him, bathing the landscape in a shimmering haze of scorching heat, relentless and unforgiving. He had no wish to perish amidst the sands, aimlessly wandering in a futile search for the forgotten past. For the first time since they had begun their journey so many days ago, Alexander began to doubt his decision.
They rode on through the fading afternoon, and in on through the setting of the sun, letting the first hints of the cool evening air soothe tender, sun burnt skin. They rode in silence, each lost in thought, intent on the journey ahead, and the journey behind and all that that fell between. Beneath them, their mounts plodded tirelessly onward with lumbering steps, the massive lizards becoming drowsy as the evenings chill settled over the wastes.
With wide eyes Alexander watch the sun slip away over the distant horizon, the sky ablaze with a thousand hues of gentle colour, a maelstrom of reds, oranges, blues, pinks and purples. The light of the sun receded across the earth, over the dunes, and away, retreating as darkness descended. Above, the flickering light of the first evening stars appeared in the purple sky, their brilliance growing with each passing moment. The line between the heavens and the earth seemed to slip away, and vanish, and for a moment, a perfect stillness surrounded the two riders. Both reined in their mounts, and paused to admire the heavens.
"It is magnifique, eh p'tit," Alexander only nodded, as though afraid any further disturbance might soil the moment. Reaching in his jacket, he withdrew a battered book, bound in cracked leather, and opened it to a marked page. Staring at the horizon, he sat in silence.
The yellow sun clung to the horizon, a tiny crescent of fire perched on the edge of the earth, darkness pressing in around it. Then, like a dying man uttering a final gasp, Helios cast long fiery streaks of shimmering light across the sky as it tipped back, and slowly sunk away, falling out of sight. Then night fell forward to fill the void, swallowing the last stubborn glow of daylight, at last enveloping the desert in shadow and darkness. Overhead, a blanket stars spread to fill the skies with their shimmering glory, in countless thousands and millions, reaching to every horizon. And far ahead, Hope sparkled in its full majesty, bathing the desert in an eerie white light. The whole transition took only a few moments, minutes at most.
Alexander looked down to the book opened in his hands. Pulling a pen from his jacket, he wrote, oblivious to the world around him. Several moments passed before he looked up again.
"Do we camp here?" asked Alexander, at last breaking the silence. His companion shook his head in reply, and instead, with a nudge to his mount, resumed their former course, waving for Alexander to follow.
"Non p'tit. The night is with us. The stars have come to guide us onward. We have not far to go. Come, come." Staring at his companion in bewilderment, Alexander moved to follow.
They rode on for some time, hours it seemed, though Alexander could not be sure, his watch having ceased all function several days past. Fatigue set in rapidly, the long day in the saddle having taken a considerable toll. Eyes blurred, wincing at a thousand aches in his muscles, and at his cracked, peeling skin, Alexander found himself fighting to remain awake as time wore on. It was a battle he was not win, and soon enough he slumped forward in the saddle, having succumbed to his exhaustion. His companion said nothing, but instead took the reins of Alexander's mount, and pressed onward, his eyes studying the stars above.
Alexander awoke to gentle tap on his shoulder. His eyes snapped open, and he straightened in the saddle at once realizing his failure. He began to stammer an apology, but his companion waved it off, and whispered, "We have have arrived p'tit"
To be continued...
|APAGear II Archives||Volume 3, Number 1||February, 2001|
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