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  • Michael Travis

Neon Odyssey - 4

Walking down a corridor the rays of moonlight shone through dancing dust particles, making Arax think of snow again. He followed the recent footsteps in the dust making his way to where scavengers were holding up. He stepped over a big crack in the corridor and the path began to slope down to a lower level; it was darker here and he pulled out an LED light from his shoulder, turned it on and proceeded forward. He eventually reached what looked like a concrete stairwell and then suddenly stopped.

“This markings, it's a warning” He observed the scratched mark of a circle with a cross through it. He knew what it meant from being in the labor camp. The Scavenger Guild captives who he was imprisoned with used symbols like that in the mines. They used them to designate smuggling and safety shelters. The circle meant a shelter and cross meant a trap.

He looked under his feet and on the other side of the doorway he noticed a skillfully masked pressure plate with a thin wire going up to an explosive charge. One more step and the whole doorway would have collapsed leveling what remained of the building.

Arax took a wide step over the pressure plate and proceeded down the stairs. Floor below had a doorway which was the only way forward. He went through and noticed a light in the distance, turned off the torch and went down the corridor with caution and his pistol out. At the end of it he saw a room that had a single fluorescent light in the ceiling. He looked around and noticed signs of people living here; makeshift beds and supplies. He stepped inside and as he did he heard the sound of a plasma rifle being charged behind him.

“Do not move!” a thin voice proclaimed.

“Ok, don’t shoot me.” Arax replied calmly.

“Drop the gun! Turn around! Put your hands up!” voice commanded.

“Which is it? Turn around or drop the gun or put my hands up?” Arax asked without making a move.

“Drop the gun, then put your hands up, then turn around.” The voice sounded annoyed. Arax slowly lowered the gun to the floor, lifted his good hand up and turned around. In the shadows was a thin male figure of short stature, unsteady pointing a rifle at Arax.

“The other hand!” The voice sounded nervous.

“Finger off the trigger kid. I’m not with the bandits”

“Other hand!” The figure shouted in frustration and pointed the rifle more directly.

“I can’t, look at it closer.” Arax replied. The kid took his gaze off Arax’s face and looked at his limp hand, robotic fingers and obviously dysfunctional. Pausing to think for a moment and then eased his hand off the trigger.

“If you're not with the bandits then who are you?”

“I am a nomad, a scientist, last of the Expedition 47 from Delus”

“Offlander? I have never seen an offlander...why should I believe you?”

“Listen kid; my foot is killing me, I got a crazy headache and I barely slept in the last two days. Let me just sit down and I will tell you more.” The kid observed Arax, a one handed dirty man with a limp and bloody bandages on his head. Looked like someone who was in a battle with mutants.

“Ok, keep your hands where I can see them and sit there.” The kid gestured to the makeshift stool. Arax slowly limped towards it, sat down, took off his boots and extended his now swollen foot out. Took off his bag, jacket and then placed his robotic hand on his hip using his good hand. Kid stood some feet back while still holding his rifle at the ready observing with amusement. He wondered how this man was so careless about a gun being pointed at him; his guess was that he probably went through worse things and he was right. Yet he did not trust him and slowly walked around to grab Arax’s gun. It was heavy and the kid almost dropped it. He eventually put it in his waistband and stepped back to keep distance ,all the while pointing the rifle at Arax.

“Look kid, I will show you.” Arax slowly lifted his hand and began unwrapping his head wraps and took off his sand goggles. Kid stepped back ready to shoot the stranger. Arax moved his arm and rolled his sleeve back using his chin exposing a scar riddled arm and a tattoo. He gestured to the kid to come closer to take a look. The tattoo was a crest of a bird holding what looked like a looped cross in its claws surrounded by stars.

“This is a Delos expedition crest. The eagle is holding an Ankh which is a symbol for life. I am…was a corporal scientist on a research expedition to find a cure or treatment for the BDD Biome Degeneration Disease which is causing our colony to go extinct. Don’t worry it's a disease only the offenders get.” He paused and then turned his hand over palm up, exposing his hand covered in scars and calluses and continued.

My team was ambushed and I was captured by the Martians. They tortured me and eventually I was sent to work in Wastefield mines for three years as their prisoner.” He clutched his hand into a fist, paused and then continued.

“I managed to escape and resumed my expedition to find the old world knowledge to save my family.” He lowered his head and used the edge of a rag to rub sweat and dirt off his neck. He took a moment then relaxed his hand, looked at the kid and continued.

“I heard the drones, then saw the smoke. What happened?” He concluded by lifting his head and looking at the kid.

The kid looked at Arax then walked over to the pistol, picked it up and sat on a piece of concrete opposite of Arax. Kid was a teenager, dark complexion with brown eyes and brown hair. He was skinny and maybe malnourished judging by dry lips and baggy eyes. Wearing rags for clothes with little on him except for the rifle. He studied the old man and was fairly confident in his own agility in case this beat up old man tried something.

“The drones ambushed us, everyone was killed. Sam and the Jones brothers were good people, they gave me a chance and I could do nothing.” Kid tensed up squeezing the rifle.

“Take it easy kid, there is nothing you could have done against the drones. Tell me more, why were drones here? Are they after your supplies?”

“It was yesterday, we were salvaging the old plane and Sam’s tool broke; I was lucky, she sent me to get the repair kit from down here. Stupid me picked up the toolkit without checking. It wasn't latched and everything fell out. I thought Sam was gonna have my head because it took me forever to pick everything up.” He spoke rapidly and continued.

“This is when I heard an explosion and I ran outside. I saw them running and drones attacking them; Sam was able to blast one but the others got them. At first the drones did not see me, they hacked the mule bots to follow them and were leaving when I made my way towards Sam and others. Somehow they spotted me as I grabbed Sam’s rifle; I was able to make it back to the shelter and hide down here. They were too big to get inside and were blasting the building for hours. I thought I was done for but eventually they left.”

“I see, they must have run low on fuel and ammo. What about supplies? Food? Water?” Arax asked.

“I was afraid to go back out there. We had three mule bots but the drones took the two of them and the third one was blown up.” Kid replied.

“What about this place?” Arax continued after shaking his head and taking a long pause.

“This shelter used to have a small farm and a water collection system on the roof; But when we got here we discovered most of it was destroyed. Sam said that a tornado must have gone through here. He and Jim fixed the water system and got the farm back running but I have not been up there since the attack. The collection tank for water is down here. Kid nodded towards a plastic barrel in the corner.

Arax took a moment to think, brushing his untrimmed beard and as he did a beeping noise came out of his backpack. The kid got spooked and jumped up pointing the rifle at Arax almost instantaneously.

“Calm down kid, dinner is ready.” Arax reached into his bag and pulled out the decomposer. He opened it revealing a several spoon worth amount of white paste. Kid lowered his gun and was observing with curiosity.

“Hungry?” Arax asked the kid.

“I’ll pass, could be poison” Kid replied.

Arax chuckled at the kid's cleverness then reached his fingers into the thermos, scooping up the paste. He looked at it, smelled it and then shoved the fingers in his mouth. Not the best tasting but much needed nutrition especially after this marathon of a day in the wasteland.

“Tastes like poison, but I think it’s ok. Hope you don’t mind.” Arax walked over to the water tank, poured some water into the thermos, swooshed it then chugged it. He looked back at the kid who seemed now sad and tired.

“I cant believe what has happened to Sam, Jim, Aren: they are all gone!” Kid began to sob with tears coming out.

“Listen kid.” Arax looked at him seriously.

“I know you went through something rough here but I got more bad news for you. The drones saw you and that mule bot is still out there with supplies. This means that the drones will be back here with the bandits to find you and salvage both to the bones. We need to get out of here as soon as we can. We will rest here tonight, gather supplies in the morning then headout.”

“You are taking me with you?” Kid asked as he was wiping his runny mucus on his sleeve.

“Yes, for a time being at least. I could use a hand.” Arax glazed over at his robotic hand, smirked then looked back at the kid.

“I’m Arax by the way, and you?”

“I’m Kean” Smirking back.

“We can't take all the water with us so we might as well use it.” Arax looked around, spotted a metal bowl then filled it with water and cleaned his head wound, face and hands. Then he washed his feet and dunked his swollen heel into the bowl of water sitting back down. This was the first wash he had in a long time and was very refreshing. His stomach was full and he was clean. Meanwhile the kid was snacking on what looked like jerky and drinking water from a metal cup. Rifle down but still ready, the kid seemed agile and Arax did not want to test him.

“You have a medkit around?” Arax inquired.

“We do!” Kean went digging through one of the boxes and produced a small bag filled with bandages and medicines and handed it to Arax who proceeded to treat his wounds with iodine, bandages and took some aspirin pills.

“Thank you, you are a lifesaver. We should hold on to this” He sat the medicine bag down next to Kean.

“Ok kid, I need some rest and I suggest you get some too because as soon as it's daylight we get busy” Arax drank more water, filled his flask and walked over to one of the beds and laied down with the bag under his arm not trusting Kean with his belongings. Kean finished his bar, emptied his cup and walked over to Arax handing him this gun back.

“I have this ability; I am pretty good at people. I can tell you are one of the good guys and I think I can trust you. I am an orphan and a street kid, I dealt with many bad people in my life and can spot them just like that” He snapped his finger as Arax slowly was taking his weapon back.

“That is a very good skill to have.” Arax replied, put the gun into his holster and laied down. He had no choice but to take the kid with him at least for now. Kid went through a lot and he felt bad for him, reminded him of his son briefly but he diverted his mind to something else and soon dozed off to sleep.

Kean has felt a bit of a relief and despite his judgment of character he was still always doubtful and on the edge with people. With Arax fully asleep he could at least relax a little. He sat for a while and reminisced on what had happened. He was alone and in shock since his keepers were killed. Before Arax showed up he was lost and not sure what to do, planning to go back out there and bury them the next day. Then what? What is he to do all by himself out here in the desert with nobody else out here? What if drones were to come back and finish him any moment? How will he get out of here without supplies or direction? For a long time he was laying there afraid to go outside, afraid of drones or bandits being out there waiting for him. He sobbed and then recited the prayers he learned from traveling Thera Monks. Then remembered the silence and his clear thinking of being sick and tired of being a wimp, relying on others, always cowering and hiding. He remembered telling himself at the moment that it was time to grow up, be strong, confident and make decisions. This was when he got up and climbed the ladder to the roof hatch. He looked out and saw a figure in the distance walking towards the building and his heart sank. He thought it was one of the bandits and Kean was grateful that this stranger showed up, maybe his prayers were answered. He decided it must have been a blessing from the Gods, an opportunity or a new beginning. He then thought of Sam, Jim and Aren; the good memories. After what seemed to be hours of thoughts running through his head Kean finally fell asleep.

© M.A.Travis


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