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Game for Vultures

By: Madaline on Oct 26th, 2012  |  syntax: None  |  size: 29.40 KB  |  views: 528  |  expires: Never
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  1. A sharp, burning pain surges through my body.  A hunk of skin slides off my chest, and hits the black, featureless floor like a wet rag. I fall to my knees, and place my hand on the ground.  The hand subsequently bends and falls off, like a wax candle being fatigued to the breaking point.  
  2. I’m suddenly back in one piece, as paramedics cart me away again.  The gurney bounces as my brain rattles loosely in my fractured skull.  Am I awake?  My bones melt into themselves as my skin burns relentlessly.  
  3.     ==========================================================================================================
  4.  
  5. Unintelligible screeches are passed between two of the more avian creatures in the group.  The large, heavy-headed one stares mesmerized.  A faceless beast proceeds to manipulate my head, stretching it like rubber.  It's either painless, or I forgot how to feel pain.  Or maybe I just don't care anymore.  I’m weak, but I’m not trembling.  My body may be destroyed, but my mind remains intact.  My mind, all that matters now...
  6.  
  7. ==========================================================================================================
  8.  
  9. The rough caress of a linen blanket is the first sensation to ease its way into my brain.  The second is a firm grip on my left hand.  For a moment, this embrace is somewhat sensual.  It's comforting, in a way.
  10. Instinctively, I attempt to curl myself into a comfortable fetal position, either ignoring or not realizing how undignified such a position may seem to my visitor.
  11.  
  12. My reflex is stifled by the shock of coming-to.  Fear makes my spine jolt, rattling the steel bed, its clanks bouncing off the cold tiled walls.  Restraints bind my hands and legs, and large foam pads encompass my head and neck.   I force my eyes open, only to be greeted by a dim flesh-colored light struggling through an ACE bandage.  I panic, shaking the bed's elastic restraints.  Pain shoots through my neck and shoulder.  My heart races.  This is real.
  13. I hear feet shuffle in my direction, the clicking and squeaking of dress shoes on linoleum is unmistakable.  I can't help but be reminded of a termite mound, with drones clicking as their fangs scrape on whatever dying creature they’ve decided to prey upon.  To my side I see a heavy-headed creature skulking in the hallways.  It flashes me a glare as my vision is obscured by fuzzy black dots.  The pain in my neck subsides as I drift back into idleness.
  14. ==========================================================================================================
  15.  
  16. I awaken to the chin of a nurse, as my bed is carted into the void.  I look up at her, peeking through the bandages pressing against my head.  
  17. She looks down at me momentarily.  Her lips move, but her voice is inaudible over the clanks of the steel bed on the creases in the linoleum.
  18. I open my mouth to speak, but I can barely hear myself think in all this chaos.  Must have said something offensive, as my attempt at diplomacy is met with a slack jaw, immediately stowed away as she returns to her stoic vigil.
  19. She signals someone at the foot of the bed, and suddenly the incessant chatter of the bed gives way to a rhythmic thump.  Our speed doesn't waver.  I maintain a strained gaze at the nurse as I am lulled to sleep.  
  20. ==========================================================================================================
  21.  
  22. Those creatures... Were they a hallucination?  The hospital seems different.  These restraints.. Maybe they were doctors and... Fuck.  I'll drive myself mad if I keep thinking like this.  It can't be healthy here, just me and my mind.  I don't think we've been getting along too well lately.
  23. ==========================================================================================================
  24. I see a woman with glasses walking the halls around me.
  25. I see her pacing back and forth at the foot of the bed, cursing and gesturing madly until giving in to depression, enervation, or both.
  26.  
  27. My emotions seem to mirror hers, to an extent.  I can't stand being back here, confined to a strange bed in a featureless, sterile room.  Catheters in my neck and arm ensnare me like a fly in a spider's web.  Machines click and hum.  Clicking and humming for what purpose?  Why am I back here, in this hell of old emotions?  How much longer must I be tormented by these faces and bound and degraded by these damn machines-
  28.  
  29. *Click*
  30. *Wrrrrrrrrr*
  31.  
  32. One of the machines I am tied to jerks back to life, as I am pulled back into the recesses of sleep.
  33. ==========================================================================================================
  34.  
  35.  
  36. My left hand is mostly gone, save for the index and ring fingers.  The nurse they sent said I had burns over 60% of my body.  I can’t feel anything, but I believe them.  I don’t even want to ask what my face looks like.  I still can’t believe they just sent the nurse in to talk to me, I’m no immediate danger, it seems, especially with the prison-esque precautions they’ve taken.   They’ve got me in a sterile room with white walls and blue tile. The ceiling is about eleven feet up, and at least thirteen feet across.  There’s a single air vent on the wall opposite to me.  The lights are always on, there isn’t a switch.  Not that I’d be able to flip it if there was one, they’ve kept me strapped to the bed.  The same damn bed for over a month, it feels like.  It seems the only luxury they allowed me was this small opening in my bandages, just enough to see through.  They didn’t overlook it, the nurse stared into my eyes.  Staring like a deer caught in the headlights of a truck.  Or a tank.  Well, my eyes could be the scariest looking things on earth for all I care, at least they work.  That’s all that matters.
  37.  
  38. One would think I’d have die of infection by now, but I’m just the same as when the investigators questioned me.  No loss of muscle, just a slight bit of healing.  Too little healing.  Perhaps it’s the bandages; leaving a wound covered for this long can only be bad for it.  I spontaneously move my head side-to-side, I’ve kept it still for far too long.  It cracks and pops like a bonfire, despite the small radius I turned it.  The feeling of relief is indescribable at this point.  It feels good to know something is working properly.
  39.  
  40. I wiggle my toes.  It stings, but it’s fine.
  41. I try to move my knees.  They crack, sending a shock through my legs.  My skin tears somewhere; I can see blood welling up from my bandages.  “Fuck it, I’ll live” I tell myself.  It doesn’t help.  
  42. My left arm seems good, after some quick diagnostic rotations.  
  43. My midsection is sore but otherwise seems fine.  I can’t feel my spine, but I suppose that’s normal for someone who’s been in bed for a month.  My skin has nearly melted off, and I’m short one hand.
  44.  
  45. The days are starting to blend together into a festering morass of wasted time.  I’m not sure what I looked like before this.  It’s been so long, I forget what it’s like out there.  Sun on my back, wind in my hair, all of these are alien concepts to me.  God dammit I’m tired....
  46.  
  47. I’m getting sick of this place.  That damn humming coming from the vent, that clumsy nurse, the smell of the drugs they’ve pumped me full of, it all fills me with blistering rage.  The bed clangs as I struggle with the restraints for the thousandth time today.  I slack them as the doorknob rattles, sending an incessant clicking throughout the room.  It’s someone new.
  48.  
  49. New nurse, guess the first couldn’t get used to the smell.  She’s younger than the last nurse, looks like she’s in her early thirties.  Dark red hair peeks out from under her cap.  Big, circular glasses encompass her face.  Looks cute on her.  Doesn’t help that I have a thing for redheads.  Wonder if she’s into burn victims...
  50.  
  51. She’s pushing a steel cart, loaded with pain pills and MREs.  The sheer quantity of pills and food intrigues me, it’s far too many for me to ingest.  They wouldn’t put extra weight on the cart for nothing, there must be more than one patient to serve.  A feeling of hopelessness washes over me as she rips open some MREs and prepares my meal; chicken soup and crackers.  
  52. “Here you go.”  She says as she lays a tray on the nightstand.  She’ll lose that jovial tone yet.  She undoes the restraint on my better hand and hands me a metal spoon.  To my surprise, she leaves the room with a determined stride.  The old nurse had to feed me by hand, if at all.  Fucking degrading, that was.  
  53. My mind has trailed off, wasting precious time.  I reach over to undo the strap on my left arm, which proves a difficult task, costing me about half a minute.  
  54.  
  55. “Can’t rush this.”  I utter to myself.  The risk of overworking my inexperienced muscles is too high.  I decide to put my arms behind my head in a sit-up pattern, and slowly ease myself up.  
  56. My spine cracks and pops in protest, as do every other major joint I move.  I feel like one big blister, with the bandages sliding on my dilapidated skin.  I can feel boils and other lacerations burst and seep as the smell of rot and Novocaine is fills my nostrils.  I let out a stuttering breath as I undo my leg restraints.  They used medical tubing, must have been short on handcuffs.  I hold it steady with my claw and try to loosen the knot with my right hand.  It flops and straightens as it falls to the ground with a quiet tap.  I do the same with my left leg, and pull them in towards my body.  It feels strange, like I shouldn’t be doing it, yet it feels good.  Like I’m breaking a law that’s meant to be broken.  A cautious exhilaration in my stomach, like I’m about to break something.  I don’t remember how long it’s been since I felt something like this like this.  For the first time in six months I feel alive.  A small smile creeps its way across my face.  I reach up to the bandages on my head and slowly unfurl them.  A kaleidoscopic array of colors are present on the bandages, most of them shades of red and yellow.  The worrying amount of green and blue defeats my fleeting smile.  I reach towards the stainless steel spoon the nurse handed me, and look at my reflection in the convex side of it.
  57.  
  58. The doorknob rattles, falling on deaf ears.  A sharp gasp is the first thing out of the nurses’ mouth, followed by a nervous report sent through the short wave radio she pulled off her waist.  
  59. I squint, fighting back the tears pounding on my eyelids.  A reluctant whimper emanates from my corroded lips.  I break into a flow of tears.  I begin shaking.  Cursing.  Screaming.
  60. ==========================================================================================================
  61.  And I heard, as it were, the voice of thunder.  One of the four beasts saying, “Come and see”, and I saw, and behold, a white horse.  I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts. I looked and behold, a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.
  62. ==========================================================================================================
  63.  
  64.  
  65. “Should we leave him?” asks a scrawny voice.
  66. “…. No…. We shall wait until he awakens.” said a slurred voice, tinted with a slight Indian-sounding accent.
  67.  
  68. My eyes ease their way open, being met with an inviting sky of dark blue, accented with sparse, low-hanging white clouds.  I groan as I sit up, yet I am interrupted by a rough, jagged sensation on my rear and back.  Slowly it dawns on me that I am naked, and covered in a thick black tar, dried and cracking as I eek my way up.  
  69.  
  70. “Oh, shit…” the scrawny one says under his breath.
  71. “Here, it’s ok now.  The beasts are gone.  Grab my hand.” the accented voice implored.
  72.  
  73. I wipe the tar from my eyes as an elephantine creature peers expectantly through squinted eyelids.  He’s like a man, but with a short, orange elephant’s snout and two large lobes on his forehead.  Small tusks jut out from his chin, adorned with copper and turquoise.  Despite his alien appearance, I feel not threatened, but calmed by his presence.  
  74.  
  75. I reach out with two perfectly formed hands, and he grasps them to pull me up.  I brush the tar off me, not caring about my modesty.   The cold desert air chills my skin. The elephant creature hands me a pair of pants and a jacket, which I hastily put on.  The elephant man opens his mouth to speak.
  76.  
  77. “You…. We know where you’ve been.  Don’t worry, it’s safe.  The hospital's gone.” he utters, his voice having taken a deeper tone.
  78.  
  79. I’m too jaded to comprehend all this; I just want some water and a warm bed.
  80.  
  81. The elephant man chimes up.  “We know outlander.  Follow us; we’ll get you somewhere comfortable.”
  82.  
  83. His forehead lobes glowed as he spoke.  As shocked as I am at this whole predicament, I can immediately jump to the conclusion that he read my mind.  I don’t fucking care how at this point, now I just know that he can.
  84.  
  85. “Thanks….”  I mutter weakly.  My brain is kicking in, but my body has yet to catch up.
  86.  
  87. The scrawny voice calls from afar.  “Hey, we gotta hurry!  I ain’t waitin’!”
  88.  
  89. The elephant man looks at me with his friendly gaze. "Come, outlander.  We’ll tell you more when we get back to town.”
  90. ==========================================================================================================
  91. “The Guru”, the name that the elephant man goes by, was not chosen by him, but by the townspeople.  He said he likes it.  The town is small, similar to what I imagine an early 1800’s frontier town to look like, but accented by strange organic buildings here and there.  Some of the technology is more advanced than what the colonials had.  Big spiders made from iron and wood being used to draw rickshaws filled with men in archaic suits occasionally navigate their way around the town, but most people travel by horse or horse-like creature.
  92.  
  93. The Guru led me to his house.  A small, roughly-shaped dome that looks like it was carved from stone, with circular windows dotting the circumference of it.  
  94.  
  95. As I exited the harsh desert landscape I am met with a familiar setting.  Familiar from books and movies, at least.  It's sort of how I imagined the Taj Mahal to look like.  The house has a nice baroque interior, with gold inlets and accents on the walls, and matching furniture. A very lavish setting, being bigger on the inside then it is on the out, I get the impression the Guru is much more well renown then I thought.
  96.  
  97. Suddenly, I have a realization. Something about me has changed.  I'm more stoic than usual, and nothing surprises me.  Even the laws of physics being broken hasn't brought up any feelings besides "Great, more shit to deal with".  Always something.
  98.  
  99. "Always something, eh?" croaked the Guru.  "This 'something' just may be a change for the better!  I've been watching you for quite some time now.  Since you seem to be taking all this very well, I might as well just give it to you straight.  Basically, I've known that you were going to die prematurely your whole life.  It sent... Ripples, between worlds, just like everything on your earth from a butterfly flapping its wings or a bomb going off.  Every atom is interconnected with another, another somewhere else in the universe.  You may have heard of it as 'quantum entanglement'.  I doubt it, though.  You've never really been interested in science much.  Here, we call it Koallith's Property."
  100.  
  101. I take advantage of the momentary pause he takes, saying "Yeah, I'm expecting to experience some pretty bad culture shock."    
  102.  
  103. "Like hell you will.  Anyway an atom in your heart just happened to be connected to my brain.  My brain, is much more complex than a human's-"
  104.  
  105. I interrupt, "Look, sorry man, but I don't really give a single shit right now.  As unpleasant as my old life was, I kinda want it back."
  106.  
  107. Something in me is getting agitated.  
  108.  
  109. The Guru changes tone. "Too bad outlander,  You're dead.  But, I saved you, using my alien voodoo. Now you're with us, on another world, far far away from what you call home.  That's all you need to know, and probably all you'll understand.  Now stand still."
  110.  
  111. The Guru walks over to an ornate wooden desk, and opens a drawer.  He pulls out some sort of plastic spike.  In a motion that moves too quickly for me to process, he moves at me, and jabs it into my heart.  I feel no pain.
  112.  
  113. ===========================================================================================================
  114.  
  115. I slowly regain consciousness, waking up on a slab of soapstone in another baroque chamber.  A strange metal bladder covered in creases and cracks looms overhead.
  116.  
  117. The Guru silently removes the spike from my heart.  My skin slowly peels back, like a flower opening for the sun.  I feel a cold emptiness inside my heart as it beats uncontrollably.  He unceremoniously lifts my heart from its foundation, and severs it from my chest.  He proceeds to place it on the soapstone.  My heart melts into the stone, staining the area a dark red.  The metal bladder depressurizes, and opens up, revealing a fist sized module, complete with carrying handles and what look like spark plugs.  It hovers down into the Guru's hands, and he places it my ribcage with a heavy thump that shakes my entire body.  
  118.  
  119. ===========================================================================================================
  120.  
  121. Everything turns grey.  My eyes are filled with sites that I cannot comprehend.  Mountains of teeth, foaming with creatures made of hair and slime.  Beaches of salt and oceans of menstrual blood.  Amoebas devouring gas giants.  Rotting flesh saturating mountains without peaks.  Giant wolves with squid's beaks roaming jungles of mold and slime.  
  122.  
  123. ===========================================================================================================
  124.  
  125. The Guru ushers me back to reality, or whatever it is that my reality has become.  My skin is ashy from dehydration, my hair thin from age, and my eyes bloodshot from insomnia.  
  126.  
  127. The red headed nurse stands beside the Guru.  Only now do I realize that this nurse is the woman I saw walking the halls in the hospital.  She comes closer and towers over me as she says "Boy, that was fun, wasn't it?  Well, now your heart's all fixed up and you're free to go!".
  128.  
  129. I'm shooed out of the Guru's house as quickly as my atrophied legs can take me.  In my jaded state, I just want to be somewhere solitary, away from anyone trying to rip me open, or tie me to a bed.  A place free from marauding demons that chip away at my sanity with every glance.  A place-
  130.  
  131. "We have more of you to deal with, get out!"  The Guru interrupts my train of thought.  I'm kicked out, back into the strange archaic town.  The door slams behind me.  I've nothing but the clothes on my back.  No knowledge of this world, no friends, no family.  No enemies.  No strangers badgering me about trivial shit.  A new beginning, far away from all that dogged me in the past.  No real desire to go back anymore, either.  I just want to be.  I don't want to worry about what the fuck that chick was doing here, or what those creatures were marauding me for, or ask any questions regarding this whole mindfuck.
  132.  
  133. I adjust my jacket and slowly walk down the street, meeting new faces, seeing strange new sights, and feeling stronger with every step.  I might like this new world.
  134.  
  135. ===================================================================================================
  136. Chapter 2:  The Shackles of Ottomaton
  137. ===================================================================================================
  138. One of the iron spiders halts and another elephant man calls from atop his carriage.  
  139.  
  140. "Hey you, you new here?"  He asks.
  141.  
  142. I reply happily, "Yes I am!"
  143.  
  144. He smiles.  "Good, you wanna make some cash?"
  145.  
  146. Cash, huh?  They have money here, apparently.  
  147.  
  148. "Yeah, maybe.  What do I do?" I respond, yelling up to the carriage.
  149.  
  150. He smirks again. "You know how to use a gun?"
  151.  
  152. Back home I had a good few guns.  WASR-10/63s, AR-15s, all the scary baby-killing assault guns a man could want.
  153.  
  154. "What kinda gun?" I yell.
  155.  
  156. He holds up a strange orange rifle. Bakelite body, magazine behind the trigger, small silhouette but long barrel.  Magazine very far back, if it uses bullets I don't know how the hell it feeds rounds.  
  157.  
  158. "This." he croaks.  He kneels down and hands the rifle to me.  I shoulder it, and try to familiarize myself with it.  The weight distribution is amazing.  It has an ambidextrous charging handle and fire selector, making it easy to rack the bolt and take it on and off safe. After making sure the chamber is clear I point it at the ground and pull the trigger.  A little on the stiff side but that's to be expected with a bullpup.  
  159.  
  160. The elephant man chimes in.  "Have a feel for it yet?"
  161.  
  162. I answer yes and confirm that I want the job.  
  163.  
  164. He smiles and says "Great, hop in."
  165.  
  166. I climb up and sit behind him on the carriage.  I feel very limber, very able-bodied considering what I just went through.  I have one question for him, though.
  167.  
  168. "How did you know I was new here?" I ask.
  169.  
  170. "You're not dead yet." he responds.
  171.  
  172. This response frightens me.  "Can you, uhm, impress upon that, please?"
  173.  
  174. His face goes flat.  "Your kind doesn't usually last long around here.  In the town of LLeery, you're one of the weaker creatures, and yet you do not know your place.  We may have a bond, but bonds can be broken.  You are our strange cousins, and you have overstayed your welcome."
  175.  
  176. He seems to assume I know more about this place than I really do.  "I'm a little new here, I don't really know how this world works." I calmly reply.
  177.  
  178. "Not many of you do." he retorts.
  179.  
  180. Is this just how people are around here?  I'm stranded on the planet of the dicks.
  181.  
  182. The mechanical spider belches black smoke as we ride off towards fates unknown.
  183.  
  184. ===================================================================================================
  185. "What's your name, stranger?"  I ask the elephant man.
  186.  
  187. "Doushio" he replies.
  188.  
  189. Doe-shee-o.
  190.  
  191. A few seconds pass and I respond with "So where are we headed, Doushio?"
  192.  
  193. "Heh." He chuckles.
  194.  
  195. I've been tricked. "What's so funny?"
  196.  
  197. "My name's Kep.  We're headed to the demilitarized zone between LLeery and the city of New Dis."
  198.  
  199. I raise an eyebrow.  "And LLeery is...?"
  200.  
  201. "We just left LLeery." he says flatly.  
  202.  
  203. A few more seconds pass and I ask him "Hey, uh, can you tell me about it?  I didn't have much time to look around when I was there."
  204.  
  205. "Yeah, sure" he croaks.
  206. ===================================================================================================
  207. The town of LLeery is a strange one, for me at least.  The name itself is too, being alien in syntax and shrouded in mystery.  No one wants to tell me what it means.  
  208.  
  209. The town is built around the wreck of a massive boat.  It looks like a civil war-era ironclad armed with missile systems and strange cannons with solid barrels.  It has a main gun on the top, about 1500mm from the looks of it.  Nothing like earth's ships. The ship houses the mayor, the judges, some workers for either local government or a corporation, and the town militia.  When Kep said "town militia" I got a full on freedom-boner.  Either the government trusts its citizens enough to let them have armed militias, or there isn't much of a government to speak of and self-governed city-states have their own militias.  Either way it's pretty damn cool.  
  210.  
  211. The surrounding town is chewed out from the bedrock via strange chemical reaction.  Kep said they used "voodoo", but it sounds like they took some acid-like liquid and sprayed it in the right places to make houses.  The whole town is in a depression with the ironclad in the middle.  Surrounding the crater are adobe houses and small shanties.  Beyond that, desert.  Beyond that, "The land of Han to the north, Hell to the east, Lode to the west, and wastes to the south.  We're headed east."
  212.  
  213. I'm not sure which hell he's referring to.
  214. ===================================================================================================
  215. Through all of this I wonder, do I want to go home?  When, and where was "home" anyway?  I remember a few things.  A small yellow house in south Phoenix, a redhead with glasses, and my job at Ruger. I made guns.  I built them, bought them, and sold them all the time.  Many I bought for pleasure, while others for resale.  My memory is hazy, I don't remember much past that. I mustn't forget all I've learned at the plant.  Machining, gunsmithing, marksmanship, and bartering skills.  All of which may serve me well here, wherever I am.  
  216.  
  217. I remember a bit more now.  I was a patriot.  I pledged allegiance to a flag with stars and stripes.. That's all I remember.  I don't remember who flew that flag.  It saddens me, knowing that I once had an affiliation and a purpose, both lost. Lost like tears in the rain.  I'm a patriot of no allegiance, a lost vexillarius toting a dead flag.  
  218.  
  219. I take a look at the rifle Kep handed me, and notice three notches by the fire selector.  Safe, semi-automatic, and full-retard.  Never go full-retard.  A ribbed and angled fore-grip encompass the entire front end of the rifle, with about three inches of muzzle break extending past that.  The orange Bakelite-covered rifle perplexes me.  Bakelite is a very outdated material, who on Earth- well, wherever we are, would choose such a brittle substance to cover a rifle?  Well, come to think of it, it might work, and that's all that matters.  
  220.  
  221. Kep takes a look at me.  "What are you thinkin' about?  You seem lost in thought."
  222.  
  223. "Nothing." I reply.  
  224.  
  225. A few seconds pass as I attempt to put my musings into words.  "It's like... Well, you have a home, right?  Someone you care about?"
  226.  
  227. "Six kids and and two beautiful wives, in an adobe back in LLeery." he says dryly.  
  228.  
  229. "Yeah, I don't have that.  I did, perhaps, but I forget most everything about them.  I remember a girl.  Redhead, big round glasses.  A nice house and no one to share it with.  I had pride, I was a patriot.  A patriot for a nation I forget everything about, except for the flag.  Red and white stripes, with stars on a blue background." I say.
  230.  
  231. Kep turns and looks at me, and raises one of his forehead lobes."Red and white stripes, stars on a blue background?  Yeah I've seen that places."  
  232.  
  233. My eyes open wide with anticipation.  "Really?  Can you tell me more?"
  234.  
  235. "Sure." he says.  "It's a common symbol for your people.  I've seen your kind paint murals and draw body art with many strange flags on them."
  236.  
  237. "Like what?"  I ask.
  238.  
  239. "A yellow diamond on a green background, with a blue dot in the center.  Red and white stripes with a leaf on it.  Some are just red banners with yellow stars and tools on them.  I've asked some of your kind about them before, they just say that 'the flags come to them'.  When they grab a paintbrush, they fall into it, like a daydream or a fever.  They begin painting in a trance, forging wild imagery and strange symbols.  Strangely beautiful, some of them.  Some, grotesque."
  240.  
  241. "Can you take me to some more of my people?" I ask intently.  
  242.  
  243. His eyes fix themselves on the road ahead. "After you do the job you promised me, sure."
  244.  
  245. That response puts me at ease.  I now have a goal, short-term, but a goal nonetheless.  "Speaking of which, you never told me what I was supposed to do.  You caught me in a very good mood."
  246.  
  247. "Oh yes, I just need someone to stand near me holding a gun.  Make it seem like you know what you're doing." He says.  "I'm doing a little deal with an old friend, and he's never been the most trustworthy.  I just needed a hired gun to keep the transaction civil."
  248.  
  249. "Sounds good." I say.
  250.  
  251. I've done this before.  Back on earth I once bought a gun over the internet, legally of course.  I had my carry piece on me and he had his, but the mutually assured destruction kept us all civil.  
  252.  
  253. "Yeah, I can do that."  I reassure Kep.
  254.  
  255. ===================================================================================================
  256.  
  257. The mechanical spider stutters for a moment, then freezes in its tracks.  
  258.  
  259. "Aww, shit." croaks Kep.  I remain silent.
  260.  
  261. Kep proceeds to climb down from the wagon and opens up a large panel on the side of the spider.
  262.  
  263. He groans, and after fiddling with the bits inside says "One of the fission tubes cracked."
  264.  
  265. "Fission?  Is that safe?" I say, feigning concern.  
  266.  
  267. "'Course it’s safe.  What else would we use?"  He asks rhetorically.  
  268.  
  269. I don't really want to get him started, so I just shrug.
  270.  
  271. A few moments pass between us, and Kep breaks the euphony of silence.  “Alright, we have two options.  We can call for help, or we can walk.  And I don’t have a phone so we only have one option.”
  272.  
  273. God damn, this place might as well be earth.  “Where we gonna go?” I ask.
  274.  
  275. I look around and see little more than flat desert, with a few mountains to the east.  We’ve been travelling for two hours at about thirteen miles an hour, so it’d be one hell of a long walk back where we came.  The mountains seem only thirty minutes away, and I’ve always been one for a good hike.
  276.  
  277. “Yeah, we’re gonna have to go for those mountains.” Says Kep.
  278.  
  279. There are no other mountains, so I guess he’s talking about the eastern ones.  
  280.  
  281. Kep interrupts my train of thought.  “Grab as much as you can, and we’ll head over there right now.”
  282.  
  283. ===================================================================================================
  284.  
  285. I just remembered.  Han to the north, Lode to the west, and Hell to the east.  We were headed east regardless, but now without a quick way to leave.  Being on foot makes me feel more vulnerable.  Sure, I have a rifle, but the fear of the unknown envelopes me.