By Christina Janke
“Wake up. It’s time,” whispered a voice, “You need to find a better place to hide.”
An ethereal blue light floated down from the desert night sky. It danced from needle to needle on a cactus closest to the mouth of a cave. The light pulsed, sending its message again. There was no answer from within the cave.
The light pulsed again, “Wake up. Hey.”
Again no answer.
Frustrated, the soft blue light turned a menacing red and charged inside the cave. “Hey! Listen!” Its words echoed as a burst of red light filled the darkness of the cave. A different voice yelled out in anger. The light, blue again, flew out of the cave and set itself atop the needle of the same cactus. It bounced lightly as it waited.
The desert’s horizon slowly brightened as the morning sun began to rise. The birds, who were already chirping before the sun, sang their melodies even louder as if to rouse the other creatures sleeping in the ground.
A disheveled young woman staggered out from the mouth of the cave. Clouds of dust fell from her limbs and tattered clothes as she floundered outside. Her half-opened eyes were bombarded with the morning’s brilliant rays, and she groaned in pain as she lifted her hand to shield her face. The young woman searched for the nuisance that awoke her.
“They are coming,” said the bouncing ball of light. The ball was less radiant now, revealing a small metal device with wings that fluttered rapidly.
The woman, adjusting to the morning light, stared at the ball in alarm. “Coming for me?” she asked.
“Negative,” it replied, “It seems the Metronians are expanding their territory and are surveying the land for more materials. You must leave before their arrival.”
“How long?” asked the woman in a commanding tone, “How long before they get to this location?”
The ball paused, calculating. “In approximately three hours and forty-seven minutes.”
The woman spat in frustration.
“Luckily,” it added, “You seem to be at the edge of the set perimeters designated for this surveying exercise. But it is likely in the future they will expand farther to neutralize any possible dangers.”
“Got it. So run like hell, yeah?”
“For at least ten kilometers. I have arranged for someone to retrieve you at this location.” A holographic map of the desert appeared in front of the device. A red blinking light manifested ten kilometers north of her cave. “From there, you will drive eighty kilometers, northeast, toward this spot.” The marker quickly drew a path to a spot along a narrow ridge. “The magnetic properties of the rocks at this location are enough to interfere with the enemy’s equipment. They will not search for anything here.”
The woman blew the dust from her nose and grabbed for her pack inside the cave. She took out strips of dried meat and a canteen of water. She consumed both as quickly as possible while ignoring the floating device who advised against such irresponsible eating. Then she began stretching her limbs.
“Shall I pull up a guide for recommended stretches suitable for long distance running?”
“Shut up, you stupid faery,” she growled, and continued to loosen up her muscles.
“You now have three hours and seven minutes,” urged the faery.
The woman looked up and arched her back. With her hands on her hips, her pack firmly strapped down around her shoulders and waist, the woman took one last look at her calm and peaceful morning surroundings. She created a portrait in her mind to later stow away in her memories. This would be the last time she would see this place. “I used to play here, y’know?” she said reminiscing aloud. She took one deep breath through her nose and let it out through her lips. “Keep this place clean, okay?” she said to the faery while fastening a hood around her head.
“Affirmative,” nodded the little ball.
“I’m counting on it.” The woman winked to the faery and began her long run north.
“Tanis,” someone called out. The voice was muffled, far away.
The woman responded with a groan. She hadn’t heard her own name in months, living in self-imposed exile in the desert. It almost felt refreshing. Tanis, whose cheek had been pressed against a flat rock for some time, lifted her head with great difficulty. Her jaw felt sore, as if she had collided headfirst into a tank on her run. A rough, leathery hand gently slapped her in the face. If her body wasn’t so weak, she would have grabbed the person’s neck and knocked him down.
“Tanis!” shouted the voice again.
Tanis looked up at blurry man draped in sand-colored robes. The sun shown behind him, impairing her sight even more. Her head pounded and throbbed. What happened?
“You must have collapsed. The heat in this desert can be quite unpredictable. Eighty degrees one minute, one hundred and six the next.” The man’s face became clearer as he inspected Tanis closely. Underneath his goggles were emerald green eyes. “You haven’t been drinking a whole lot either. Lucky I found you then. Here,” he tilted Tanis’ head back and gently poured some of his water in her mouth. Rousing out of her daze Tanis greedily grabbed for the canteen and drank. “Whoa!” said the man and he pushed her away from the near empty container. “Leave some for me; we still have a long drive ahead of us.”
“Thank you,” whispered Tanis. She palmed what water she had left around her lips and wiped her face, hoping to relieve the heat she now felt from the sun. Her whole body was sore. Had she collapsed from dehydration? Exhaustion? Tanis was lost in her muddled mind that she didn’t notice that she was being carried.
“I gotcha,” said the man.
Tanis focused her eyes and looked at the man. Every inch of his face was covered, hidden away from the sand and the relentless beating from the sun’s rays. “How many of you are left?” was the first question that popped into her brain.
The man’s green eyes looked at her through the thin lens of his goggles. “One hundred and thirty-nine, soon to be one hundred and forty,” he replied. “My sister’s due anytime now.” A wide grin appeared behind the man’s face mask. “There it is,” he pointed ahead with his chin.
Tanis looked toward the direction he had pointed and saw an old dune rover. Mounted in the back was a large, high-velocity gun. “You expecting any trouble on our way to your place?”
The man shrugged. He gently sat Tanis in the passenger’s seat and buckled her in. “I like being prepared.” He paused after starting the rover, “You do know how to fire one of those, right?”
Tanis shrugged, “Aim and fire?”
An outline of another grin appeared again. “The name’s Rez,” he said, “So what makes you so important that we need to bring you back into the world from exile?”
“I guess,” Tanis paused to wonder herself, “Because I’m good at what I do.”
“And what are you good at?” Rez put the rover in drive and pushed down on the accelerator close to the floor. Clouds of dust flew up in the air from the tired trying to gain momentum.
Tanis stared grimly ahead of them, “Genocide.”