We Want A Rock

tagnone

9

9

Derelict desert plains are not known for much, least of all safety or fair temperatures. No, it was a place feared by many, a place unfit for humanity. The lifestyle was not popular among those with enough luck or sense to seek other options. Which, of course, gave rise to the not-so-sane men who called it home. They were treasure hunters on the fringes of society. The world called them madmen. They called themselves Scrappers.

At least, they used to. Things had been changing lately, in the hot dunes burning away that idealistic identity. Those who had once been legends of the frontier now becoming concrete statues in town squares. Massive rail tracks were built from mystical mineral power, jutting out of the horizon to dizzying lengths. Within them, greater treasures had been found than even the most dedicated pharaoh excavator could ever hope to see. Rail cars filled with workers coming to settle, not search, which seemed to stretch on for miles. Repositories of the old knowledge now sold to the highest bidder. More things which could not be mentioned, but seen, and known to ones self alone.

Yes, many of these Ex-Scrappers had made themselves rich, investing their modest treasures and trinkets into spreadsheets and timetables. Which, in turn, brought a new breed of seekers. Young people from the northern cities, leaving their families and friends behind to seek the now-accessible badlands of incredible fortunes.

Which brings us to a young man currently taking shelter beneath a dune.

Actop was beginning to wonder whether or not this “treasure hunting” business was really worth it. Sure, he had seen what came out of this place. Some of his own kin had made themselves fat and happy through plunder in this desolate land. But, he'd found nothing. Six cycles, he'd been scouring the land, and all for naught. It had all been picked over this way and that, not even a crumb of mortar left to point to where the next undiscovered treasure trove might lay.

Every night, he went to bed with a blistered back, and each morning he awoke with frozen blisters. In the day, all he seemed to do was wander from place to place, looking for anything interesting besides sand dunes and oddly twisted Spineplants. The one claim he'd made had turned out to be a rusted dome, containing nothing but stinging gas and shriveled bones. So he went, walking on and on, and considered whether or not turning back and returning in shame would be better than burning the small patches of unmolested skin that was remaining.

But this day, it would be different. That is what Actop told himself every night as he went to bed. That even though this day had been a bust, perhaps the next one may be better. Maybe he would find a million jewel-encrusted naked women, or some bread. Bread would be nice.

But on this day, things were different than Actop could have ever imagined.

Actop first noticed it as he was excavating himself from his dugout house-hole, looking to the south and, expecting to be greeted by another series of endless dunes, he was surprised by a small black dot which had not been there the day before, appearing to be perched snugly atop one of the innumerably sandy hills. It looked like a meaningless speck on the horizon, but that was still better than the usual hot slice of nothing. Justification, perhaps, for all the time spent toiling away in this hellscape.

So, with renewed vigor, Actop set off towards the speck of might and righteousness. The sun and heat were still pressing down with persuasive force, but this new determination cast aside any thoughts of surrender. That little speck meant something was still out there, and he was going to plunder it, damn the cost.

Over days, to weeks, he continued progressing towards it, trying to make headway in good time. But it was a slow going, over dunes and through shifting sands throwing themselves at Actoo with all the night the forces of nature could provide. The ground would conform to his sandals, seeming to drag them down every time he wished to lift his feet, while the wind and sun whispering, forever telling him to give up.

But the speck remained, like a siren extending a hand to Actop's bodily vessel. He was coming in to port. As the days went by, the speck became more of a dot, and then a fuzzy shape. Finally, it took on a recognizable form.

Actop stood at the base of the speck’s dune, looking up towards its now merely hazy shape just outside the reach of his vision. For a moment, he considered taking a minute to plan out his final approach, and to take each step with care. Then, he tossed such thoughts to the wind, and scrambled up the dune dauntlessly, making rapid progress as he clawed up, up, and closer to his prize.

The top of the dune was like nothing Actop had ever seen. White, metal husks stood half-buried in sand, with wooden posts outside each one. There were rusted blocks of what might have been another metallic material buried in front of each one, with some flecks of paint clinging to each one like the last survivor of a shipwreck.

In front of each one, a brightly colored collection of every conceivable shiny garbage, atop which was perched what Actop first thought must be a giant statue depicting a strange bird, before realizing it was in fact that. Static and solemn, they stood guard outside their empire of sparkling trash, the last residents of whatever this place had been. Actop regarded them for a moment, before plunging into the first husk.

This was his claim. Not as wondrous as the other objects brought from the desert, but it was something. A reason to return, not in shame, but with triumph. Tools, strange and rusted, filled his arms as he emerged from his treasure trove. His first thought on returning was imagination of triumph, and grins only victory can bring.

The second, and more pertinent thought, was where the birds had gone. Actop, in an act which saved both his life and the lives of his descendants, reached up to scratch his own head as he became lost in his own thinking.

Actop would not have to wait for it to be answered, because the next moment his hand was penetrated by drooling acid, in through the top of his fingers and then plunging through out the wrist, hollowing the palm, and cooking his nails. Actop fell without fanfare, save for a small piff as he dropped like a stone onto the sand. The giant crows rolled with him down the hill, all of them having minds which were far, far away. When they reached the bottom, grasping thin arms in their claws, the great avians lifted Actop to be part of a collection in parts unknown.

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