Most Wanted

I look up. Everything around me is sand. For miles, and miles – just sand. It’s in my eyes, between my breasts, under my fingernails. Hell, it’s even in my lungs. I cough, but I’m so hoarse it hardly sounds like myself. And then there’s the ringing. A piercing, relentless, ringing that somehow I know is coming from inside of my own head.

My wrist is broken. That much is clear. My head has been rattled. My muscles twitch and ache where they shouldn’t. But none of that compares to the damage done to the ship. Metal bits and chunks are laid out upon the sand, a perfect picture of disaster. And that’s when I know for sure, I’m never going home.

The sun is still high, which tells me I have plenty of hours to succumb to dehydration before I even see a desert’s moon. That saddens me. I’ve always wanted to see the moon from the other side. Earth. I almost chuckle. This is not at all how I imagined my grand arrival.

Somehow I find the energy to scrounge for food and water in the heaps of broken ship. I find one water bottle, and it’s only half full. Luckily, I’ve always been a glass half-full woman, so I smile and let a few drips wash over my parched tongue. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a bag of peanuts, and things really start to look up. Because the peanuts aren’t mine.

The dunes are tough to get over. With each step I sink, and have to struggle forward. I engage every muscle, every bone (that isn’t broken), and every corner of my mind. Willpower – there’s nothing like it.

Finally I see a shadow in the distance. I think it’s the shape of a person. The sun is almost set now; it’s cold and I’ve almost finished the water. The peanuts are long gone. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to assure me I’m not hallucinating when the figure starts towards me.

It’s a woman. She’s tall and sturdy, wielding a crossbow. A huntress of the Desert Peoples. She won’t care that I’m interstellar. Desert Peoples are poor, desperate – they have a million other things to worry about besides intergalactic relations. Still, I hold up my index finger to indicate that I come in peace. I hold up a piece of scrap from my ship and point to the sky, then my broken bone. She nods and offers me a hand.

Gaza, as she calls herself, takes me to her home. She is proud of it even though it is small, dark, and sticky. Its walls are decorated with her trophies – the heads of creatures small and large. It catches me off guard. These are species of which I’ve only seen images. They captured their stillness, but this – this is too still. I look away, embarrassed by my weakness. To think, I used to consider myself tough.

“Thora,” Gaza says pointing to me. She is introducing me to her father, an elderly man who creaks when he moves. He nods, but his gaze seems to pass right through me. He’s blind, I realize.

Over the next few weeks I learn to help around the house. Mostly, I load parcels of meat, babying my wrapped wrist bone. I’m not sure what animal it is, and I don’t ask. Gaza and her clan are preparing for a great travel to the city where they trade goods. I will be going with her, she tells me. It will make me useful, she adds.

I fancy the idea of being a useful member of a community and I’m tickled. Back home, I was just a petty thief, in and out of jails. No sense of loyalty, no sense of belonging. I was hardly a blip on anyones newsfeed. Until the hack. Nothing like a good b and e to the Authority’s mainframe to get some attention. That’s all I was looking for, attention. But I found something much bigger. Plans of an intergalactic war. I’m not sure at what moment I decided to become the hero of this story, to come to Earth and warn the people – I guess I just needed a win. Unfortunately, the Authority put me on a most wanted murderers list before my ship had gained enough speed for its spectacular crash landing. My name was all over the newsfeeds then. Yes, it was.

“This way,” Gaza instructs as she rips down a wanted poster of me. We’ve just arrived at the trading post. It’s the first time I’m sure she knows who I am, but neither one of us says a word about it. I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s good to know she’s on my side. I plan to tell some of the traders about the war plans. They’ll be from all over, and I’m sure to find someone who speaks more English than Gaza; maybe even some Lunar.

Inside the post, Gaza goes on with a shorter woman who is plump and (from the looks of it) bored. After Gaza begins raising her voice, a man comes out. They go back and forth for a while in a language I can’t understand and I turn my back on the ordeal. I’m fondling some sparkly trinkets that I don’t recognize when the hand grabs me. I turn to face the large man as he cuffs me. I want to scream but I’m in shock, because I don’t know what’s going on, but from the look on Gaza’s face, I’ve been sold out.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

If Tomorrow Comes

Sir

Sir

“SIR!”

Peter tried to hang on to the sound. Was it real?

“Sir? I need to move you! Ok?! Ok?!”

What was that in the background? Gunfire, perhaps. And the voice… a woman. A young woman. Nothing to be afraid of, perhaps.

“OK! Let’s move! C’mon. We’ve got this!”

Her accent was thick – Australian, perhaps. He wished he could get a grip on himself, but all he could form were half questions and partial realizations.

Before long he could feel the gravel peeling away the skin on his back. Her fingertips were digging deep into his armpits as she grunted exhaustively. She was dragging him to safety. The gunfire was growing more distant. Peter tried to get a foot sturdy on the ground to help her, but as far as he could tell, he was still deadweight.

“Morning.”

Peter looked up groggily; the sun was assaulting.

“You’ve been out for a day and a half. Here, eat.”

She was young, with a sweet, round, face. As she handed him a bowl of what looked like sludge, Peter took notice of her dirty hands and torn fingernails. Suddenly, the angelic haze surrounding her dissipated and he realized they were in hell.

“I’m Evelyn, by the way. Or, Evie. Peter, right? I found your wallet.”

“Yeah,” Peter managed as he pulled himself to a sitting position. “Where are we?”

“Hell,” she offered with a puckish smirk. “Really. But it’s a great hiding spot. I wouldn’t move too much if I were you, though. I had to sort of tumble you down here. But there was no way I could get you up anymore mountains, so the valley was your best chance.”

Hell Valley. Peter breathed in deeply and let the smell of the outback take him over. It took him a moment to process it, but when it came back, the sense memory flooded him. He had come to Australia for a sabbatical. He meant to write a new book but found himself holding more shot glasses than pens. He tried to find some solitude but then he broke his leg, just in time for the end of the world.

“Oh. My leg.”

“Looks broken. My mum’s a nurse. Er – she was.”

Peter considered offering condolences, but felt too disoriented to sound sincere.

“Evie?” he finally managed, “what’s happening?”

She sighed, and lifted her brow to the sky. “My guess? The end of the world.”

They spent the rest of daylight fiddling with a radio Evie had found in the city. She and her friends had been camping in Hell when it happened – whatever it was. An army, she said. But she had no real answers. The others had left to find their families. Evie didn’t have to worry about that. Her mother was dead in the house when she arrived. Shot. That was weeks ago, but Peter could tell she was still in shock.

“The sun’s going down. It gets kind of cold – just a warning.”

“Thanks. You know a lot about this roughing it stuff, huh?”

She smiled. “I know how to survive, if that’s what you mean. And – well, I could tell you didn’t. That’s why I couldn’t leave you. That, and, I figured if you healed good it would be nice to have a partner who owed me his life.”

“I do. Thank you. I feel rather incompetent. You’re just a kid.”

“Seventeen. You could be my dad.”

“Yeah, I could.”

Looking away, Peter sighed through the stabbing pain shooting through his leg. The timing was perfect – it was that, or think about his actual daughter, again.

“So how long do we stay here?”

Evie looked as though she wanted to hide from the question, but finally she said: “until you’re well enough to fight, I guess. We’ll come up with a plan tomorrow.”

Peter shut his eyes. She was right. It was getting cold.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen