July 4th, 2113
In my dreams, I could sleep. Faint images flickered in and out of existence as I struggled to keep my eyes closed long enough to rest, the quiet hum of reality around me rousing my vigilance. In those fleeting visions, I felt peaceful; in those fleeting moments, I felt safe. No sooner would my mind begin to drift away before a sharp howl of wind or a light sway of a cactus pulled me back into the night, as tired and anxious as ever. Eventually, like every night, my mind would finally surrender and my body would force me asleep: in those dreams, I was awake.
I imagined...or did I remember? A luxurious house that sat nestled atop a modest hill, an alien feeling of happiness and contentment, a loving embrace, a warm smile. I was always a boy, and I was always running across the halls of that vast home, the king in his castle. A lion amidst his pride. It was always at the turn of a corner, or the opening of a door, that I would be jolted awake, the dream or memory taken away. Before opening my eyes, there was always an empty echo I knew was directed towards me, the feeling of words on my ears but the sound stripped from the air: a truth or thought I had known that I had somehow forgotten. On the tip of my tongue but in the deepest nook in my mind.
In the slight confusion of moving from dream to being, the light always seared my eyes. Fucking Christ, I groaned, the desert sun as unforgiving as always. “If you keep swearing, I’m going to leave you.” It took me a moment to see, as it never failed to, and I opened my eyes to a relaxing sight: her. If you leave me, who will take my food when they say they’re not hungry? She rolled her eyes and lightly chortled, her head turned to mine as she prepared our meal. “If you want me to stop eating your food, you should start making it for yourself.” I laughed as I rose from what bed I had, and rested my head on her back: But then it wouldn’t be as tasty. Or edible. I felt her hand on my head, a calming sensation brushed over me as I let out a deep sigh and closed my eyes. “That’s what I thought tonto.” The mornings were always the best.
The desert heat was strong, but after some time, it became bearable. I quickly glanced at my makeshift clock and calendar to see how long we had been out in these sands. Almost a week now, I said. Abby turned around, still preparing our food. “Is that including the time it took us to reach De Guadalupe?” I thought on it, I honestly don’t know, I think so? She shook her head as she turned her attention back to our meal. “I thought you were good with places.” I put my things away, and began stretching before my morning workout. Places. Not names. That’s what you’re for. She chuckled as she shook her head even more. “If you’re depending on me for anything besides keeping you well-fed and rested, we’re in serious trouble.” I smiled. I depend on you for a lot more, I said as rubbed her shoulders. Her body loosened up, “Yeah, okay. Being nice won’t get you extra food.” I grinned before kissing her cheek, it never hurts to try.
A lot had occurred in a short amount of time here and throughout the world. Cities and states the world over had led some kind of revolt or uprising upon learning that one of the leading technological conglomerates had undertaken incredibly unethical and immoral researching under the guidance and awareness of the United States government. The Maximum Dynamo Company, or MxDyCo, as it used to be affectionately called, created purposefully deceitful applications to lure in subjects from the poorer parts of the world. Out of a reported hundred thousand or so applicants which underwent the study, only a tiny fraction of them survived, and even fewer were seen again. It was only due to a handful of test subjects that the information got out. The test apparently consisted of incredibly brutal physical and mental torture.
Those that were able to survive—or endure, if you preferred—these hardships were then reportedly slapped unto a surgical table and began to be worked on like fresh puzzles out of the box. Out of the hundred or so individuals who managed to live past the examinations, only a dozen or so survived the dissections. The leaked information abruptly stopped before going into further detail, the bulk of the message being attachments of logs and records of the entirety of the operation. Many people assumed it was to find the key to immortality, but people quickly dismissed this notion. Smaller fringe groups believed the government aimed to create super soldiers—or slaves, depending on your viewpoint of it—while others even believed that they had captured the last remaining individuals free of the world government’s chemicals and treatments and had gone for the “End Game”, whatever that meant.
Regardless of what you believed in, there was only one thing made horribly clear: the two parties involved irrevocably knew what they were doing. Citizens all over lashed out at their governments, angered by what they assumed was either willful ignorance or shameful compliance. Many barely stable nations and territories crumbled, while more held together locations lost cities and even states to the riots and chaos. Despite respective armies being called in to subdue the rampage, those militants were—after all—made up of citizens, many of whom felt these turn of events completely negated whatever oath or promise to duty they had sworn to uphold. Every and any individual with an opinion and a group that believed them wielded the power to shake their local establishment: and many of them did.
This exact turn of events had occurred a little less than a year ago, but the logs showed that these experiments and research had potentially been going on a lot earlier. Various files and records had labels of what couldn’t be believed to be innocuous titles such as Dragon, Warthog, Lizard, and King. Even more, some files had been grouped together in what was assumed to be a completed or at least sequential study. These titles bore even more disturbing names: Squaliformes, apparently meaning sharks, Demons, Questionable, and Pride, which people believed meant lions.
I felt my body tense up as I reached the end of my workout, my muscles sore but mainly worked and not strained. I remembered very clearly what made me change the way I worked out before: “If you get a cramp or something while you’re trying to protect me, I swear to God, I’ll haunt you as a ghost.” I chuckled a little, I think the fear of losing her worried me more than her vengeful spirit. Maybe.
“Are you done pretending to be fit?” I busted a laugh, Jeez, you can’t even be a little nice to me? Abby handed me my food in the rusted plates we had managed to hold on to for so long, the designs on it scratched and smudged by whatever we happened to place them on. “I’ll be nice to you once you get us to wherever you wanted to get to,” she said, half-joking. I could see the worry in her face, I started to feel bad. This looks really good. “Are you saying it usually doesn’t?” Fuck, she’s upset. I sat closer to her and rested my head against hers. I’m saying I can’t imagine doing any of this without you. She weakly smiled as she held my hand. “Yeah, you can’t cook to save your life. Literally.” She wanted to laugh, but her fears got the best of her, as they tended to. I know you wanted to stay back home, I said holding her as she ate, but this is our best shot, I swear. She turned back and looked me in the eyes, the worry clear in her gaze. “We’d be safer back home Leon.” I thought about all we had left behind: all she had left behind to do this. Probably, I placed my cheek next to hers as I laid my food down and held her tightly, but we’d also be screwed in the long run.
We had stayed like that for a while, seemingly taking turns at letting out deep sighs. I motioned for her to scoot over so I could wash our plates, and she faintly nodded, lost in her thoughts. I’ll be right back, okay? I kissed her head, and went to our basin for cleaning. Abby always allowed herself to feel the brunt end of things: she was an incredibly direct and to-the-point person. She hated lying, though she’d tell you she was only bad at it because she didn’t like it. There was a certain refreshing innocence to the way she looked at things, an innocence I felt I desperately craved in the crazy world we were stuck in now. I finished washing our dishes and began to pack up our things as she dug her toes firmly into the sand and peered at the dunes around us.
In a sense, Abby was very much like us on this desert: laid bare and vulnerable, yet with enough space and awareness to meet any threat head on. I lightly chuckled at the thought of Abby fighting, and got everything ready to go inside my pack. We’re going to need to find another source of water pretty soon, I’d rather not risk trying to go the entire way with what we have right now. I helped her up, and patted her butt to a twisted face. “I can dust myself, thank you very much,” she said in her standard sass, “I’ll keep an eye out to see if things seem to be moving in the same direction.”
It was only by chance that I had been part of the survivalist’s club at our school, though I did always have an interest in wilderness exploration. I had learned from a number of people that it was smart to study the animals of an environment to see if they all wander or move in a certain direction: “these animals have been wherever you are for far longer, and will most likely live there far longer as well, you can bet they know where some key resources are.” Our club leader was a little dorky, but his sense of navigation was honestly impressive. Though he kept insisting we call him Compass due to his sense of direction, we took the opportunity to start calling him Needle, a name he held all throughout high school.
Do you remember Needle? I asked as we marched onward through the sands of what used to be California. “You know I never liked that name,” Abby scorned, “but, yes, I remember Ivan. Do you know what happened to him?” Ivan was a little more ambitious than I was, he heard there was some kind of a safe zone on the East coast, so he and his family and friends ventured there. “In the East?” I thought back on what he had told me. Yeah, it was called like New City or something weird like that, or that’s what he heard. He said it was as good a shot as any and so he left. I could feel the silence thicken a little, Abby was thinking about something she was about to say.
“Why didn’t we go with him? We would’ve had more people. And a better environment.” I nodded a bit, true. But, there is another rumor about the East, one he chose to ignore that I didn’t feel so confident in doing so. I motioned to Abby to stop for a moment so we could get some water from a cactus. “And, that is…?” I made sure to put the device firmly in place, and let it do its thing. That the entire Midwest was destroyed by the experiment subjects the government failed to contain. Abby stared down at the ground, something she liked to do when she wanted to think harder about whatever she just learned or heard.
“I thought there were only like a handful of failed experimental subjects?” I finished retrieving the purified liquid from the cactus, and we began going on our way again. There were, I said as I took a slight drink from my pouch, But, there were also the experiments that didn’t. And, possibly, the experiments that occurred before we all found out about it. That kind of risk more than easily outweighs the potential reward. Abby nodded pensively, “but walking to Mexico is fine, right?”
I couldn’t help rolling my eyes, I’m glad I was facing away from Abby for it. We have an advantage here they don’t: you speak Spanish. And, I can learn Spanish. I heard her clear her throat. Or, I can attempt to, okay? She laughed. Anyways, our destination is closer anyways, and you’re right the environment is worse: which means less people will want to go this way. Which makes us safer. I felt her hand on my shoulder, and I turned around to an unamused Abby. “It also means that if we get lost or run out of supplies, we are assured done for.” I opened my mouth to speak, but stopped myself before doing so. She had a point there. Well, that’s just how confident I am that I can get us there safely. Can you hear insecurity in a voice? “I swear to God, if we die,” she trailed off as she shoved me forward. I know, I know, haunted. She shoved me again.