Author: David Dumouriez
The ones who didn’t get away had to fight it out. The brains, the money, the aluminium alloys and the carbon fibre headed east into the atmosphere, never to return. Those like Halberd had never had a choice, or even knew there’d been one. They were left. To die, most probably. To make their own fate at best. The departees didn’t care either way.
Education of the old kind had been gone for so many years that the current ones didn’t know it had ever existed. Even if they had, all they would have done was laugh at the stupidity of it all. There was only one subject now and you learned it as you went along. Until you got found out and failed. And, soon enough, everybody failed.
In any case, would it have made any difference to Halberd if he’d known that he often roamed across what had once been Lisbon in search of provisions? His only concern was to find something the land would yield up in return for a lot of encouragement, or whatever could still be found at head level or above. To allay the thirst. The dreaded feeling he’d never felt more keenly than now in the wake of the storm that had caused him to be staggering alone here, his head aching and his body dry and cracked to the point of bleeding.
Your senses dictated that you couldn’t survive if you weren’t in some type of gang. And there was the paradox. To make it into years, you needed support. But the older you got, the more disparate the members of your group would be. You wanted water, food, protection. You travelled together because numbers were strength but the pull of your needs was greater than your loyalty to those who helped you fulfil them. The only way to measure trust was the look in someone’s eyes. But that only went so far.
When Raich arrived, Halberd knew it was just a question of time. Raich snapped Merly’s neck for no other reason than because he could. He made sure they all saw it. If you wanted more than him from that point, or if you wanted to decide which way to go, then you’d have to do to him what he’d done to Merly.
As a divinator, Halberd was the one Raich relied on to get the best out of wherever they ended up. Halberd, in his turn, operated best in the bubble of self-interest that Raich created. In different times, they might have made a formidable team. But these were days of desperation, and it was the study of that missing element that caused Halberd and Raich to watch each other incessantly.
Aware of the force of instinct if nothing else, Raich knew that Halberd would come for him. He just didn’t know when.
When it happened, they all stood back. Whoever won would be the unopposed leader and they didn’t want to take sides. Halberd knew that his own death would be the most likely result, armed or otherwise. He just hoped it would be quick like Merly’s.
But it went on. Bones were wrenched and displaced. Halberd surprised himself with his own stamina and resilience, but Raich was too large, too powerful, too practised. He was almost done.
As Raich struck, again and again, the sands intervened, swirling and transforming the dunes into towers. When Halberd rose, hours later, the others were completely gone. He never saw them again.
The journey of his life began.