Chapter 4: Nikki and Me

"The human race will be the cancer of the planet."

~ Julian Huxley

Filled with lies and deception

Your life is the only exception

If the trader raised his price

Follow the wise man's advice

Honesty is a virture hard to see

Trust is honesty's only key

Apparently, my job is actually quite easy. At least, that's the way they explained it. Aside from purchasing weapons, all I really have to do is come back and forth from this town and the ones outlying all around it. The only rule I have to follow is to make sure I come at different times, on different days, at different entrances into the city. This is to ensure the guards don't come to recognize my face. Sure, it took some convincing, but once they tossed a bag full of coins my way, I was all ears.

As soon as I agreed, they had me set up and ready to go. I kept the same outfit, for it made me seem more like a traveler. The deaf girl, Nikki, was coming with me on these trips. I wasn't sure why exactly, they said it was to help carry the cargo, but I believe it was more for the insurance that I didn't just keep the money and take off…or worse, rat them out. I'm sure I'd get paid well that way too, but I'm too nice to cross all of them.

It was early in the morning, with the sun rising over the desert to the east and shining against the infamous Mount Regret. The city was like a beehive, slowly humming in the morning, soon to become a swarm of people rushing around.

I pulled my new brown leather cowboy hat down low, a present from the crew. I was so happy to have it, also glad that they let me use their showers and such. They even fixed me up with a brand new tooth brush and more effective paste, which I'm using sparingly.

Nikki was confused it seemed, even after all the explaining she was unsure why she was dressed in ragged clothing. She refused to wear the hat, but they forced her to put on a face wrap and aviator sunglasses. She just left her hair in a ponytail, tugging on the wrap unhappily. She was excited to hear the part about leaving the city, as they rarely – if ever - have left before. The city has all of its citizen's fingerprints, assuring they can't try sneaking out. Tom explained that he had conjured up a corrosive acid to remove everyone's prints a long time ago. Our excuse for that was 'it's a long story'…God I hope that holds up…

We were exiting at the south gate, planning on looping back around to the north when would re-enter a day or so later. Two of the armed guards stood watch by the door, motionless as we approached. Once we hit the white line, the one on the right held a hand up to halt us.

"Are you locals?" he questioned.

I shook my head, "Travelers, we stayed the weekend," I answered with the most convincing voice I could muster.

He stared at us, but instead of taking our prints, he just waved us through the gate. I couldn't believe our luck, and I had to hide my relief as Nikki and I walked straight by and out into the wasteland. The sun was shimmering in the brown sandy desert terrain, stretching for miles.

"I can't believe it was that easy," I said once we were out of earshot.

Nikki turned to me, reading my lips as I spoke. "I know," she replied quietly and removing her face-wrap.

I was shocked, "Wait, you talk?"

"Rarely, but I can," she muttered, her silky, dark-brown hair shining in the sun. "I just choose not to."

I shrug, "Hey, nothing wrong with that. I hate people too."

She laughed, but said nothing more.

"I guess I don't hate everybody, but I'd rather just keep to myself," I explain. "I just end up getting attached to stuff too easily, and end up dealing with other people's problems."

She stares at my lips, as if she's eager to read more. I'm happy to see this, for most of the time people just think I'm a pretty face and everything I say is stupid. Nikki, on the other hand, only cares what I have to say, always listening and not interrupting. I can see a friendship forming here, one I've needed for a long time.

Traveling can be quite boring, especially when you just stick to one road, trekking across a desert wasteland with absolutely nothing intriguing to look at. Sand here, sand there. For about 12 hours we walk, stopping every now and again to refresh ourselves and take a breather. It wouldn't be so bad if the sun wasn't beating down on us, looming over the clear blue sky like a magnifying glass. Finally though, the sun was dropping, and along with it the temperature. We'd probably covered around 30 miles of walking, which is impressive for one day. I'm guessing the next town is somewhere within a dozen more, considering they aren't normally spaced so far apart. According to Nikki, this is all owned land, or 'claimed' by the New Menesa government. It prohibits any other towns to arise here, but that border is shaky already and some towns were pre-existing.

I notice a small ditch about thirty yards off the left side of the road. A few scraggly bushes and tumbleweeds sit near it, making it stick out.

"There," I point, "We'll just set up in there for the night."

Nikki looks relieved, but she's also had a better day than me. What I see as a desert wasteland, she sees as a desert wonderland.

I snatch up a few rocks around the perimeter of the ditch and begin making a fire pit at the bottom. Nikki begins unpacking our sleeping bags, as I gather up some dry branches and tinder from the bushes. We work silently, until the beds are made, and we have small fire burning. Even then, we sit for a few moments until the sun is ducked behind the mountain ridge, making a bright orange outline around it.

"What's up there?" I ask Nikki, motioning to the ridge.

She turns to me, and I repeat the question. She removes her aviators, and looks to the mountain, "its horrible…they put all kinds of things up there."

I dig out a loaf of bread, breaking a piece off for her, "Put? Who put what?"

She bites a piece off the bread, chewing slowly, "The government, it's a form of punishment."

I snort, "Punishing who? Nobody with the right mind would go up there…"

She shakes her head, locking her eyes on mine and dropping her tone, "They put people up there, and broadcast the whole thing to the city."

My eyes grow wide, and I almost choke on my bread, "What? How? Who do they put there?"

"Criminals," she answers. "Well, criminals and rebels…" she looks away.

It takes a minute for that to register in me. She means us, rebels like us, get put onto the mountain.

I stuff the rest of the bread away, "So…they could put us up there if they caught us?"

She nods, watching my lips.

"Why do they broadcast it? That seems like a waste of money and electricity," I continue.

She giggles, "Well, if you don't know, they have money and electricity to spare. They do it to instill fear in the rest of the rebels…"

"Don't watch it then," I replied nonchalantly.

"Like we have a choice, they make sure everybody watches," she said.

It's a whole other place, New Menesa. I've come across towns with a mayor, a police force, and even a small government system, but nothing to this extent. New Menesa's government is corrupt, you can tell just from listening. I don't understand though, because it seems like there would be no reason to rebel. The place is clean, well-organized, luxurious, and safe. To be honest, it seems like the citizens are just being stubborn, like they don't understand what it's like to live without even the basic necessities of life. They should be happy with what they have…and when you look at it that way, the government seems justified.

I run this by Nikki, "Why would you rebel?"

She rolls her eyes, reading my thoughts. "I know, it seems like a nice place…it is. But we're like slaves, forced to work jobs we don't want to, forced to pay high taxes, punished for the littlest of things, and we're never allowed to leave…"

"Sounds a lot like the old world," I answer quietly. Aside from the last part, I disagree. Those aren't exactly valid reasons.

Nikki interrupts my thinking, putting a hand on mine. "Ashley, they sent my whole family on the mountain, just because my mother missed a government assembly, she was giving birth..."

My heart skips a beat, "What? What happened?"

Tears began to form in her eyes, "We went up-"

"You?" I blurt out.

She nodded, "My whole family went up, one by one they died, by whatever came our way. It was horrible, I watched them…I watched them die."

I rub her hand, "But you're alive?"

"I made it off the mountain…they let you live if you make it off the mountain," she explained. "But that doesn't matter much, because they took me in."

The sunlight has now dissolved, and the flames from the fire cast light against her face, making her sea-green eyes shimmer with tears.

"Where?" I ask.

She took a deep shaky breath, "Into a hospital. I thought they'd treat my wounds, but instead they just put me to sleep…when I woke up, I was deaf."

"That's horrible!" I gasp, "How could those bastards do that!"

She shakes her head, "They said they didn't want me to hear the praise of the crowds when I was presented."

Lord above, how could it get any worse? I thought. Nikki seems like such an innocent young girl, with a heart of kindness. Her past just doesn't match her personality.

After a few moments in silence I ask, "How did you do it? You know, get off the mountain?"

She thought for a second. "Luck…and I ran."

"You ran?" I echo.

"I ran, and ran, and ran…until I was running across the desert and a government car picked me up," she stared at the fire.

I tossed another branch in, letting the flames eat it up. She ran, I thought. That's what I would do, just keep running, and never look back. Hell, I'd run past the car, and make my way across the desert until that mountain was no longer in view. I look up at it now though, staring at the dark silhouettes of trees and rocks. I swear I can see a tiny pair of white eyes flash at me, but it's impossible. The mountains are too far away…

Morning sunlight awakes us, I open my eyes to the same lazy morning sky of deep colors and dark shades of yellow. Nikki is still sleeping, and I shake her awake. I break out some more bread for breakfast, toasting mine over the dying coals.

"Today shouldn't be so bad," I say. "It won't be as much walking, in fact, we could rent a room in town and stay the night."

We pack up without another word, jumping back onto the road and heading south. I watch a tumbleweed roll across the ground in the distance, catching myself in a trance. How do they come to be? Does tumbleweed grow in a tumbleweed patch? No, that's absurd. A tumbleweed does not simply just grow in a tumbleweed patch…they must just roll along as a single branch, nabbing the others into a big party ball as they go. It is, actually, one of the most interesting things in the desert. Aside from me, I think with a smile. I smile, because I am pretty interesting, if I do say so myself.

I'm so caught up in making myself smile, that I miss the first howl. The second one grabs my attention though, bringing me back into reality. I slow down, scanning the area around us. It takes a minute for Nikki to realize I'm not walking with her, and she turns back to look at me confused. Her eyes widen though, as I unsheathe my knife.

A third howl and yelp confirms my suspicions, and it doesn't take long for a pack of about three coyotes to appear from behind a boulder on the road ahead.

Thanks for reading!

Chapter 5 coming soon!

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