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Crossing the Desert

“Please, please, don’t shoot. Not my nephew!” Mark screamed and jerked awake from his nightmare.

A woman was kneeling next to him, resting her hand on his shoulders. It felt comforting.

“It’s okay, it was just a dream.” she said in broken English. “The Sun is strong today. You must have passed out.”

He nodded, then looked up, into her eyes.

“Here, drink a little.” she said and offered a metal canister.

He took the canister and drank. The water was somehow cooler than he expected in this heat.

“Do you know where you are?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m trying to cross the desert. Trying to get away from someone.” he said.

“We are trying to do the same.” she said and motioned behind her with her hands. “What’s your name?”

“Mark” he replied.

Only then did he notice the group of people waiting behind her. There were six of them in total. They all looked tired, hungry, and in need of a good washing.

He smiled and nodded towards them. He tried to look reassuring, but knew that he didn’t exactly look like it. Nonetheless, the people looked relieved that they found someone young and strong who wasn’t immediately trying to rob them.

“Can I join you?” he asked her. “I know a way through The Wall.”

“How would you?”

“I got through before, but I had to go back for someone.”

“That’s very brave of you.” she said. Then after a moment of hesitation she added: “You must have loved her so much.”

“Him. But yes, I did love him.” he replied.

He stood up and looked around. The desert was absolutely flat for a long distance. On the horizon to the South he could see The Wall rising above the sand. To the West, mirages made the plateaus look inverted to his eyes. And to the East he could see only sand. He didn’t dare look North.

“Can I join you?” he asked again.

“Can you really lead us there?” she asked hesitantly. “To the hole in The Wall.”

“I can. I promise you.”

“I want to believe you. We really need a lucky break if we don’t want to die out here.”

He picked up his beaten hat from the ground, looked her in the eye, and smiled.

“Lucky that you found me then.” he said, put on his hat, and started walking South.

She and the others followed him.

* * *

As the Sun began to set, he motioned for the group to stop for the night. It would be impossible to keep on track once darkness covered the desert.

After they ate from their limited supplies, he found her sitting alone on a nearby rock. He sat down next to her.

“Why did you help me?” he asked.

“You reminded me of someone. Someone I lost.”

“A lost husband?”

“No, it was my son. A heatstroke took him. He would be nearly your age now.” she said.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“No, that wasn’t, but…” he trailed off without finishing his sentence.

She reached out and touched his hand. He flinched as an electric jolt ran up his spine.

Boom!

A gunshot from the darkness. Screams were erupting all around their makeshift camp.

“Oh my god! She’s dead!” someone shouted.

Boom!

Another shot rang through the darkness.

The screams of the group all merged into one. Five more shots broke the silence. Then the screaming stopped.

He stood there alone. Her lifeless body laid next to him.

He raised his right hand to his left shoulder. Something felt off, one of the shots must have scraped him.

Slowly a man walked from the darkness into the camp, with a gun in his hands.

“Well done, Mark V! This was a great haul.” the man said. “We will get rich from their scalps.”

“You shot Mark.” he replied and after a moment of confusion he added “You shot me!”

“Don’t worry we’ll fix you and you can be back for the next group in a couple of days.”

The man took Mark’s hand away from his shoulder and examined the wound. Mark turned his head to see the damage as well. There were wires hanging out, some of them making small sparks. Luckily nothing major that would require extensive repairs.

“You should power that arm down. Before you fry some of your electronics.” the man said. Mark could see tension in his hands that were still holding the gun.

Mark closed his eyes and in a moment his left arm hung lifeless on his side.

“Master, I want to stop doing this. This woman helped me because she was a good person.” he motioned to her body laying on the floor.

“We can discuss this back at camp.” the man replied.

“I don’t want to go back. I want to cross The Wall for real. I want to help rebuild on the other side.”

Mark saw the man tightening his grip on the gun as he replied.

“Too bad. We need you here. We need the money.”

“How much more? How many more?”

“Tell you what,” the man replied, “I power you down now, we fix you back at camp, and then you can sit out the next couple of jobs. How does that sound?”

Mark then noticed the man touching a small device on his belt and the world went black.

* * *

“Please, please, don’t shoot. Not my nephew!” he screamed and jerked awake from a nightmare. His programming was still working well.

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