Oil Colony – ‘Scorched Salt’
The hankerer is still waving towards me – his severed left arm stuck on my front bumper. I didn’t think he’d be such a salt-brain, he didn’t even try to dodge my vehicle. My car is in bad shape, the front left wheel is vibrating strangely, the bodywork is in pieces, and the fender is loose. I’ll probably have to replace it.
And as if that’s not bad enough, they are chasing me.
Dashing through the stirred up dust a buggy, two bikes and presumably even more are following me. They are not catching up, but they’ll be able to follow my tracks for a long time.
I have to return home and warn the others, but doing so will definitely unleash the raiders on them. Whatever I decide to do, the fuel gauge tells me I definitely have to refuel first before going south.
The oil rig slowly appears in my sight as I pass round the mountain. A four-legged giant, its slightly lurching body seemingly wobbling in the heat. You could fry eggs on its outside plating, and the interior is just barely tolerable thanks to the retrofitted ventilation system installed some time ago. In exchange, it feels like living in a constant windstorm.
I may be able to shake the raiders off by the time I get there, so I’ll get to grab some gear from the lower storage. I’m a scout and I don’t like being noticed while doing my job, so I don’t want to visit the others on those damned upper platforms. After that… I’m going to hit the road and leave this monumental building as prey to the bandits.
‘You have a problem?’, I hear the Arsonist yelling at me. She’s the infamous leader of the rig’s guard squad. I don’t like her, but at least our feelings are mutual. ‘It looks like you’re in a hurry.’
I resist telling her that she and her crew are a bunch of slow asses. And her ass looks pretty good, anyway.
With the car, I reverse all the way to right beside the stash, even bumping into it by a little. I don’t care, honestly. As soon as I get out of the car, I can feel her staring at my back.
‘A gang of them is after me’, I mutter, not even looking at her while browsing through the supplies.
‘Good to know that.’
‘I wanted to say…’, I almost start apologizing, then I start to remember. ‘I actually told you earlier…’
This is definitely not enough for her as justification. I can’t bear the silence.
‘Just asking: what are your plans about them?’
‘You don’t want to help us?’, she asks amicably while leaning against my car in such a way she’s almost forcibly obstructing me getting off.
‘What do you want from me?’ I try not to lose my temper.
‘Did I say I want anything at all? My job is to notice if something is not right, if there is some danger lurking around us.’
‘Then why are you staring at me, I’m not the danger you’re looking for!’ I would love to bark at her, but all I can say is ‘Aren’t you warning the others?’
‘Why would I need to do that?’, she asks in a relaxed fashion. She points at the staircase running up around one of the pillars. ‘Follow me!’
Honestly, I’m a bit scared of this person, but I still rush after her. We quickly ascend – I run out of breath, but she’s not even huffing a little bit.
We arrive just in time for the show.
The band of hankerers shows up an instant later, but our guards were already waiting for them. Flames burst up like instruments in an orchestra: flamethrowers spraying around doom in all directions, molotov-cocktails splashing to cover the enemy with death. The hankerers whimper in agony, like they were trying to surpass the loud rumbling of engines.
One of the burning motorbikes runs into a large pillar. The rider gets off painfully slow, staggers, then drops to the ground. Another one spins his chain and manages to coil it around the neck of a defender. The Arsonist grins at me, and signals with her hand. The following moment, the fighting parties transform into an enormous fireball. The buggy’s driver, as his vehicle is getting eaten by flames, quickly jumps out his vehicle, rolls in the sand putting out his burning clothes. As soon as he stops to sit up and look around, a spear pierces through his ribcage.
‘I didn’t know about these defenses…’, I groan. ‘But you know this was just the forefront. They sent these after one single car, against me.’
‘Unlike you, I’m not the hurry-scurry type. With this, I gained a few hours to pack away my gear.’ – The Arsonist says, smiling.
‘You mean that…’
‘I don’t want to die in here, either.’
Water Colony – ‘Fresh Wind’
She always winds up here with me like she doesn’t have any friends. She’s a normal girl – her parents should’ve regretted ditching her near our settlement, this water distiller plant built adjacent to a small saltwater pond.
Probably she doesn’t know it, but she’s been pretty useful for me when I’m doing measurements or assembling something, like this handheld water filter we’re putting together now. She has spent so much time here that she intuitively knows which tool I need and she can even ‘sense’ the next part that needs to be built in.
I wonder whether she suspects my intentions.
This time I’m not building something for our community – its days are already numbered anyway. Of course, it’s unlikely that the hankerers would completely eradicate the settlement once they get here. They need water just as we do and they will probably spare a few of our lives. Our expertise is definitely valuable to them.
‘But what about you?…’ – I think to myself while looking at the little girl.
She’s smart but still very young, just into adolescence. She never lets go of her bizarre puppet, although this is somewhat understandable. Most likely her only belonging, this monstrosity called the ‘Octopus’, made out of stripes cut from a truck tyre.
She certainly can’t stand up alone against the raiders and if she decides to escape, she won’t get far in the deadly Saltlands.And if she stays here, those inhuman bastards will surely find a way to use… rather, abuse her.
As I burst into tears, she looks at me appalled, with her eyes wide open. An exceptionally disciplined person, even without parents… saving water is natural for her. Her diligent, attentive attitude showing no signs of despair is admirable, even though she has every reason to behave otherwise.
We all must follow her as an example – so long as we still can.
Meanwhile I finish all the preparations, so there is nothing else left but to leave. First I’m going to visit a market and exchange a portion of my water reserves for some gear… which is supposed to be enough for setting sail, but I might only live for a few more days before I kick the bucket.
One last time, I consider taking the girl with me. Indeed, she doesn’t take up much space, but then what about her water demand?…
She follows along me all the way as I approach the hangar. The structure is large and draughty as its only purpose is to protect from the burning sunlight. As we walk in she can easily notice that I haven’t left any space for her in the landsail.
I feel sorry for her – but I don’t confess to that.
Suddenly she pulls out a manual water filter similar to the one that I have. It appears well crafted, looks like it was made by skilled hands.
‘Good luck.’ – She tells me, and then walks up to another landsail, already loaded up, though not as heavily as mine.
She prepared her vehicle for the journey better than I did: all she has left to do in order to leave is to untie the tethering ropes. She has surprised me numerous times before with her skill, but her practiced gestures still look staggering.
I have no doubt that she will be able to navigate around the Saltlands with this landsail.
To be honest, I have most certainly underestimated her: she already knows everything I do. Possibly even more.
After finishing the preparations, her sail catches the wind as she adjusts its direction. The landsail slowly starts moving.
‘Come to think of it, which one of us has more to fear from the hankerers?’ – I pose the question to myself as I disappointedly throw away my own water filter.
Soil Colony – ‘Last Sprout’
I wake up to the familiar rattling of precipitation foils. I appreciate this noise because it means that it’s windy today – and wind is our only ally in the Saltlands. The few drops of dew it brings is invaluable. It also eases the burning heat a bit, which is already enough to invigorate one in the desert.
But that’s not the only reason I like it. For those who speak its tongue, it often whispers useful clues. For example now that I went outside, it told me that it’s going to become even stronger while maintaining its direction. This is good, we will get just about enough water for the plants and us. Life instead of death – for a few more days, at least.
You might ask how I am able to do this. It’s not witchcraft, even if many people think otherwise. In reality, it’s really simple: the wind is one of the most crucial elements in our otherwise sensory deprived environment. I simply learned how to listen to its cues.
Downstairs, the lanky Ploughman is ceaselessly pulling the yoke.
I can almost hear his footsteps stomping. Reaching the end of the row, he turns around, leans against the yoke. The chain tightens again as he continues to move ahead. He used to use ropes before, but they always chafed his skin. I had a hard time treating him: I needed to makea cleaning concoction, brewed from our locally grown herbs.
He’s apparently the most useful member of the farm since our last camel passed – we haven’t been able to feed it properly. He is much less problematic anyway: he never complains, just discreetly falls asleep under his wide brim hat when he becomes too tired. But today, or more precisely, these days he’s having a bad mood. The crop yield is getting lower. The soil is weakening, and he is upset about it. Not because of economical reasons – he feels sorry about the plants themselves.
His face twitches as he grumbles. He fretfully grinds the chains in his hands, I feel certain that he would be able to crush them with his bare hands. What if the soil is whispering to him something and that’s why he’s so frustrated? His eyes gleam angrily as he rolls them around.
I simply close mine and listen to the wind as it always calms me down. Without it, the silence would be almost unbearable.
However, this time it is telling me – no, threatening me with something so serious that my body starts shuddering.
‘They are coming!’ I suddenly cry out.
The Ploughman stops in his tracks, and looks at me with no emotion.
As the wind stiffens, it carries along the furious noise of engines. There is no time to lose! Even if he can’t hear it, he must trust me.
‘Don’t you get it?’ I snap at him first but calm down in an instant as I realize that as he doesn’t know the ways of the wind, he is unable to foresee what’s coming. ‘The hankerers are coming! We have to go!’
‘Yes, I got it.’ The Ploughman murmurs slowly, a bit late for a reply.
He removes the yoke and while looking at the approaching dust-storm, he frees both ends of a chain. Is he out of his mind?
No, not at all. The soil has told him something I couldn’t make out from the whispers of the wind: in addition to the band of hankerers, a motorcycle is arriving from the other direction.
Not simply arriving, but darting through the dust and sand rather quickly! As it leaps through the garden, its rear tire minces the valuable plantations but finally gets stuck in the dirt. The Ploughman slowly walks ahead to face him. I don’t believe he is led by bloodthirst in its traditional sense, now that he has a chance to swoop down on the rider. All that exists for him now is his rage and its target. This time he doesn’t even care about the plants or treading on them. Branches break and leaves fall as he marches forward.
The chain swings, and the hand of the hankerer stops halfway as he tries to reach for the gun fastened to the bike. They clash for a moment, but the Ploughman pulls the rider out from the seat with ease. He is much stronger, and could seemingly break all of his opponent’s bones like the stem of a plant, but instead just shoves a knee into the back of his neck.
The hankerer chokes and jiggles as more and more dirt gets into his mouth and lungs, and shortly the fight is over. However, the Ploughman’s foot keeps pushing his neck into the ground.
Like killing the raider once wasn’t enough.
I drag him away. Both of us rather need to work on starting up the landsails.