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  • Michael Travis

Neon Odyssey - 6

They walked through the scorching wasteland for hours. Early in the day the heat was still manageable and Arax became unusually conversational. Having not spoken to another being for a long time he was happy to share his off-world knowledge with Kean who kept asking questions and listened with delight.

Arax told Kean that the earth was a different place many years ago and that the moon was whole not too long ago. The planet was bountiful, full of vegetation, creatures and prosperous civilizations. Then, something happened to the moon; nobody is certain what exactly but it was torn apart. Some speculate it was a natural event, such as a comet. However, others like the Digressors believe it was due to men playing God with the technology. Whatever the cause was, the catastrophic event was devastating to the planet. The spin of the earth slowed down drastically; reversing the magnetic poles. Some say the earth even stopped spinning when this happened, some say that the sun froze in the sky. The events that followed almost extinguished all life on the planet; devastating earthquakes, mountain-high tsunamis that wiped the land clean, volcano eruptions blanketed the sky. Men made nuclear technology exploded releasing pockets of global radiation. Plumes of smoke and radiation blanketed the sky ages causing most species to become extinct and mutate the others; including humans. Destruction of the moon meant the planet's magnetic field was weakened, this caused the climate to drastically change and behave erratically. The planet now goes through extreme weather cycles as well as abnormal radioactive and electrical phenomena. Things do not follow order anymore and all beings that inhabit the land now fight for survival and control.

“Sam did talk a bit about our past but only bits and pieces. Who are the Digressors?” Kean asked.

“Digressors believe that humans went too far with technology and their main goal is to digress humanity back to the ‘roots’ of nature as they say. Some say they are a terrorist group that are responsible for blowing up the moon in order to set humanity back to the stone-age. Some say they are an ancient religious group that has key knowledge to the survival of our planet. They are very mysterious, I certainly have never seen them.” Arax concluded thinking this was enough information for the kid to ruminate on for a while.

Kean pointed out that they should seek shelter soon; the sun was getting to a dangerous point. They walked a good distance and rest would be a good idea as well.

“There! I think that formation will do.” Arax pointed to a rocky structure in the distance. He was glad that Kean knew the land and had the survival techniques of a nomad. Having a useful hand out here is invaluable, especially with Arax not being one hundred percent.

Arriving at the formation Arax instructed Kean on how to set up a daytime camp. They dug down the sand on the shadow side of the rock. A foot down the earth was much cooler than the surface. Then they used the thermal tarp to set up a low tent-like structure.

“Good job on the campsite. Now let's get some rest, we have 6 hours and then we will walk at night” Arax proclaimed and started looking out of the tent with the monocular scope.

Kean layed down and after feeling the cool earth beneath him soon dozed off. Arax did the same shortly after after making sure the coast was clear.


-


Kean’ attempt at waking up was met with Arax’s hand over his mouth and concerned Arax peeking out of their cover.

“Shhhh. The bandits are searching!” Arax whispered.

Kean slowly lifted himself up next to him and looked outside the tarp. Indeed, there were several drones as well as vehicles traveling in the distance picking up dust.

“Looks like they got an army out there looking for us.” Arax whispered.

“They are making search rounds, we cannot break camp until the sun goes down.”

We also have good and bad news…look behind us…carefully.” He continued after a pause.

Kean slowly moved to the other side of the tent structure to see the other side. Sure enough far in the distance the sky was dark and he immediately recognized a dust storm coming their way. “This is a very bad storm.” Kean turned back to Arax with a grave concern on his face. “Those bandits look relentless, they will make search sweeps until they find us. Good news is that the dust storm will at least give us cover to keep moving.” Arax replied and then went silent. He was wondering why the bandits are so relentless. They got the salvage and the bot mules; are they after the kid? Surely, the bandits knew that kid won’t survive out here on his own. Arax looked at the Kean for a moment and then turned his gaze at his bag. He crawled over to it, opened it and pulled out the old world box. “This is what they are after.” He proclaimed while holding up the box. “But, what is it?” Kean stared at it questioning. “I do not know, but it must be valuable. They must have seen the box with drone cameras and saw that it was gone; must have assumed that you took it.” He handed the box over to Kean. As time went by Kean was turning and examining the box. Arax kept the lookout on the bandits with his spyglass watching them get closer. Within the cacophony of the drones and machinery Arax could make out a crackly electronic voice. The bandits must be using microphones and speakers to communicate, Arax could not make out exactly what they were saying. Sun was starting to set and the wall of the dust storm was moving closer. The bandits were still making their rounds in a zig-zag motion. Once the bandits got far enough Arax directed Kean to break camp and prepare for the storm. They carefully took down the tarp and packed the bags ready to go. Kean knew the drill, his keepers taught him how to wrap up and survive a dust storm. He put on his own set of goggles, wrapped his head and covered any openings in clothing. Arax was impressed observing him while doing the same, when Kean finished he gave Arax a thumbs up who nodded back and gave a thumbs up as well. A key aspect in a dust storm is to keep your mouth shut at all times, the kid knew not to talk after having wrapped because it could loosen the wraps. They sat and waited; Kean looked at the giant thundering dust cloud coming their way while Arax looked in the direction of the bandits who zigged back and seemed to be heading right towards them. The wind picked up and the sand storm hit them like a tidal wave. It was almost pitch black, the once painfully burning sun became a hazy ball on the horizon. There was enough light to see just a few yards away. Constant battering of sand against the rocks and clothing could drive one mad but Kean always found it somehow soothing. He used to sleep like a baby during the dust storms in the orphan house while other kids would cower under their beds and pillows over their ears. Arax patted Kean’s shoulder and pointed towards the direction to head out. As they walked Arax pointed to the ground and tapped the air down, signaling Kean to stay low. Kean already knew this basic rule in order to reduce chances of getting hit by the lighting. He nodded and they proceeded in a sort of a cower-like pace. As they walked the glowing orb of the sun sank behind the mountain ridge reducing visibility further. What little remaining light there was came from the ring of the destroyed moon belt reflecting the sun.

Walking almost blind this way brought Arax into a hypervigilant state. The noise of dust, wind and thunder was abruptly interrupted by the roars of engines coming behind them. Before Kean could react he felt Arax’s hand grab him by the coat and they took off running. The roar was getting louder almost as if the bandits were right on top of them. Arax swiftly pulled Kean down to what seemed to be a small depression in the dunes full of shrubbery. It was enough to give them cover in the low visibility of the sand storm. They stayed low. Arax and Kean could now clearly hear the engines and soon were able to make out the voice coming out of speakers. It seemed to be a pre-recorded message on repeat. “Kid! Come out and we will not harm you! One of your scavenger friends is alive! Give us the metal chest and we will take you to him!” The electric voice proclaimed. As soon as Kean made-out the message his heart skipped a beat and the only force that stopped him from popping his head up was Arax’s elbow. Even though Arax could not see Kean’s face he knew what he must have been feeling. Arax shook his head with a firm notion and Kean put his head low. Thoughts ran through Kean’s head “Could one of them really be alive? Who? How?” Arax stayed almost motionless. He knew this could be one of the bandit tricks. The ground underneath them suddenly started vibrating and they saw a silhouette of a machine come upon them and then suddenly stop blocking off portions of the moon belt reflections. The door opened and a tall clanky figure jumped down from the vehicle with a thump. The figure was turning to try to spot any movement in the dust. As the figure was turning to look around a nearby lightning flashed lighting up the figure. Kean’s heart stopped; even though he could not make out the face behind the wraps he recognized the skull mask. He knew exactly who that was.

© M.A.Travis

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