She came to lying on her front, her throat so patched that even breathing chafed it. The heat at her back seeped into her bones backing everything in its wake, sapping whatever energy she might still have had. Her exposed skin felt raw, even that beneath the covering of her shirt. She knew she had to move, blisters had already formed on her skin the sun aggravating them to a debilitating level, fine tremors already wracked her body she knew her system was going into shock. She had less than an hour before her body shut down.
Groaning, she levered herself to her feet, an exercise that almost had her collapsing back onto the hot sands. Only her will kept her upright as blood seemed to rush away from her head leaving her dizzy. Waiting for the world to stop spinning she took slow even breaths which also helped with the nausea. Once she was as stable as she could hope for she assumed the starting position for short yang shi t’ai chi chu’an.
Her feet a foot and a half apart she had her upper arms parallel to her body, her lower arms at a right angle with the hands parallel to the upper arms, yùbèi the opening.
If she didn’t balance her energy, she’d soon be dead. The t’ai chi forms her grandfather had taught her from an early age the only way to save herself. But affecting her yin and yang in her state had its own issues.
Slower than her usual pace she flowed into Qi shi then as she touched her internal chi the forms became easier. Closing her eyes she concentrated on her principal meridians, the chi centers, as her body flowed from one form to another. It was a skill one studied for a lifetime as it was dangerous to affect them even when you knew what you were doing. Kim knew she would die if she didn’t try. As it was it was taking too much of her energy to look at her chi flows.
Nothing was as it should be, her yin meridians had more yang than they should have and her yang had too much yin. Her lungs especially radiated more yang than they should. It would take more than she had to settle her natural balance.
The forms harnessed the external chi and with her slow measured breaths she took it in then manipulated it into her collaterals, the major arteries connecting her meridians. Painstakingly she worked at restoring her yin and yang balance. It wasn’t perfect but she would manage to ensure her survival for an additional hour or two. Dehydration was her main concern as it seemed she had been in the desert for a long time.
Coming back to yùbèi she closed the form with a deep fortifying breath, releasing the extra chi from the body and closing the flow of the external chi to and through her body. Though the sun on her sunburned skin was torturous the form had centered her enough that the pain was of little note but she knew she was far from out of the woods. Both literally and figuratively.
Dunes surrounded her as she stood atop one, there was no road she could perceive, no settlement. How had she gotten here? Why would she be here? She hated the desert, okay so she had never been in the desert but nothing beat a crash course in deciding the matter. No settlement meant no water and as there was no car around it meant she hadn’t brought herself here. She would have remembered that.
The last thing she remembered was riding the back streets on her bike. Had she tangled with the wrong kind of people and been dumped here?
Kim was a bounty hunter, trained from when she was a child in myriad martial arts disciplines. She was a formidable fighter and no fugitive had ever made the drop on her, everyone knew whoever she went after was as good as caught. So how had she ended up here and where was her bike?
Damnit she loved that bike! it had been pimped up to astronomical levels with all the latest tech she could cram onto it including a water and food synthesizer. She could use that. Synthesized food no longer tasted like cardboard like it had in the twenty-first century, she had tasted some form that time, it was on par with naturally grown food even though there were still some hard cores who advocated for natural food. All the carcinogens had been removed from synthetics that they were usually a tad bit healthier than natural produce. Of course the synthetics did lower the effectiveness of the natural immune system but that was a small price to pay with medical proficiency as it was.
Why was she thinking about all this? She needed to find her way out of this hell she was in. Looking around her immediate area she saw the strap of what could only be a backpack and with a relieved sigh she grabbed it. It took her a few pulls to dislodge it from the sand and she was relieved to see it was hers. Not the one she took on her hunts but the one she took with her on her camping excursions.
Had she been camping? She could not remember that. Kim was methodical, she loved having things in their right place and details were usually the difference between getting paid or losing her life. There was no way she could have packed for camping and not remembered it. Still she had her pack and she usually had a mini synthesizer, it was a compact pack so it would carry a lot of supplies.
Opening it she took out the synthesizer then with hands almost shaking she set the settings for water synthesis. As there was little water in the desert air it took a while to fill the tumbler. It felt like an eternity as she watched the water trickling into the clear plastic tumbler. An eternity where her throat dried up even more, almost closing up. Where her tongue felt like it was swilling up and she could taste the water in her anticipation of it, when her need was ramped up even more.
When it clicked to signify the end of the cycle she grabbed and had to talk herself out of gulping it. She did not need to waste it, nor did she need to make herself sick. Pacing herself she drank the water at a measured pace then poured half of it over her head to cool herself off.
Her sunburns stung but it cooled her enough that she felt more refreshed. As she didn’t feel hungry she put the synthesizer back. Putting the pack at her back she started walking. She had no idea where she was so it didn’t matter which direction she picked but she activated the compass on her watch and went north. A study had shown that people were more likely to build to the north unless it was snow country so she went north.
She had been walking forever and still she had yet to see any living thing. No desert snakes, scorpions or scurrying creatures she had no name for, nothing. She had had to synthesize more water twice already she was losing it to the sun more than usual. Still she had yet to eat finding it hard to even think about it, water was all she craved. She was despairing of ever coming to a settlement. Knowing that desert nomads were more likely to be what she would come across she hoped some would come along soon.
When she felt some vibrations on the ground she almost wept with relief. It meant riders were close by, which meant if she were lucky so sort of rescue was at hand. She was so tired, moreso than she had ever been at any time in her life and wanted nothing more than a long soak in her tub with a glass of fine wine. Please let this be real and not an illusion of some kind, begged.
Looking back to where she had come from she spotted a group of people ridding towards her. They were colorfully dressed, what in ancient times could have been called gaily dressed, riding on horse mounted palanquins they were moving faster than she thought would be a comfortable pace. It was like a court of old as she had seen in renaissance movies, the ladies wearing diaphanous dresses as they lounged on the palanquins. The men who were not also lounging sat their horses swathed in black from head to toe with takouba at their waists and various other weapons to about them.
The leading men came to an abrupt stop in front of her; she was too tired to attempt to get out of their way. Somehow even with the constant rehydration she felt weary. As the men took out their swords she heard the sound metal against metal where the mouth of the scabbards rubbed against them. It was a sinister sound, an ominous threat that needed no explanation. She was capable of defending against them but she was just too tired.
One of the lounging women steered her horse to just behind the two guards. Her eyes were languid, as if she was a breath away from intoxication, her hair mussed as if she had just come out of bed.
“Whatever are you wearing?” she asked. Her voice was sultry, husky, the type of voice a woman tried to use in intimate moments. It grated on Kim’s nerves for some reason. “And what did you use on your hair?”
Kim looked down at her tight black leather pants, not ideal for the desert, but really not so outré to cause her reaction. As a woman of Asian descent she shouldn’t have curled hair but she did and it often caused a bit of a stir. This woman though took it a bit over the top.
She wanted to answer, make some snarky remark even with the two swords in front of her. She had no strength left in her, though why she had no idea. Talking was beyond her, even breathing seemed to be a laborious endeavor, she opened her mouth but nothing came out. The world closed in on her, retreating to a lone bright spot that winked out into unrelieved blackness. Her last conscious thought was that this had to be the most embarrassing thing she had ever experienced.
“Oh my!” the woman said. “I guess we’ll have to take her with us. The noble thing to do,” she said to her guards. “Put her on one of the pack horses.”