I groan as I become aware of the intense throbbing in my head. I open my eyes slowly, trying to remember what had happened before blacking out. My face burns, but air is flowing across it. My eyes are dry and have a hard time focusing, but I make out someone or something moving to my side.
“Cyrus. Glad to see you’ awake.” I recognize the voice, but I can’t place it. A face moves directly over me and I feel hair brush against my nose. It’s brown, soft, and smells wonderful. The image slowly comes into focus and I see a face I never expected to see smiling at me. Am I dead?
“Eve?” I croak. My voice sounds foreign to me, more like a frog’s than a human’s.
“Hey Cy. How you feeling?”
“Eh,” I try to shrug. My head aches, my arms ache… my everything aches. I try to take in the image before me. Two eyes, as blue as the pools of water I wish I could be drinking right now, are staring intensely at me, never blinking. Long brown hair wraps her face. But still most surprising to me is the smile. I’ve known Eve for what feels like forever and I have never known her to have a smile on her face. It’s nice. I smile in return as I close my eyes.
“Here,” she says, “you should probably drink something. I tried forcing some down while you were unconscious, but you need a lot more.” I open my eyes again and she’s holding a full bottle of water in front of me, dripping with condensation. My mouth tries to salivate, but is too dry to complete the effort. I attempt to sit, but Eve’s hand pushes against my shoulder.
“Not so fast, soldier. Just relax. Here.” She places the tip of the bottle against my lips and drips the water into my mouth. It splashes against my face and I drink greedily. I feel the water coursing through my body and as it does, everything it touches burns. I sputter the water out of my mouth in response to the pain, causing Eve to pull the bottle away. The pain subsides and I gesture for more.
This routine continues for a few minutes before I finally feel well enough to sit up and look around. As I rise, I see we are moving. I’m in the back of what I’m pretty sure is called a dune buggy. I had been too disoriented to notice the incredibly frequent bumps and jumps the vehicle is making as it moves across the desert. There’s a gun mounted above me, a mean looking piece of machinery that would probably be better suited in the middle of a warzone. At the wheel is a crazed looking beast of a man, covered in dust, dirt, and hair, wearing large black goggles across his face.
“My bag!” I exclaim.
“Don’t worry, it’s safe.” Eve reaches into the passenger seat and shows me that it is under careful watch by the driver.
“I should have known it would be you. You’re the only one who would know the routes well enough to know which splits I’d hit.”
“Well, it wasn’t too hard to guess you’d be heading to Olinghouse. It’s where I would’ve gone.”
“You didn’t have to burn it down, you know.”
“You think that was me?”
“I thought you knew me better than that Cyrus.”
“Well, if it wasn’t you, then who?”
“Who else? The Street Patrols. Apparently I’m not the only one who thought Olinghouse was the best bet for where you’d be heading next. Not that there are too many other options out here. I am surprised they didn’t stay around to pick you up.”
“Good thing you decided to come out and do their dirty work for them.”
“Cyrus, really?” she says, shooting me an insulted look . “Do you think I’m working for the Street Patrols?”
“Well, there’s a bounty on my head.”
“And because the SPs are waving money around, you thought I’d be the first to jump on the wagon to turn you in? Come on, Cyrus, after what happened at the Canyon?”
“What happened at the canyon?”
“You know what happened. I owe you.”
“Well, looks like you’re all paid up now.”
“I don’t know about that,” she responds as her eyes dart away from mine.
“A life for a life and all that. In fact, if anything, I owe you, don’t I?”
“I knew there was a reason I don’t hang out with women.”
“Look, I have something to admit to you.”
“I’m the one who told Alvin to hire you for this job.”
“That’s hard to explain.”
“But why me? Why not do it yourself?”
“I have been. Almost all of my runs for the past five years have been for the rebels.”
“But why aren’t you doing this run?” I push.
“Sorry, Cy. That’s something I can’t explain right now.”
“Okay, fine. So, still…why me?”
“Are you always this cryptic?”
Eve laughs. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to turn down a cross-country run, no matter who you were running for. You could have been asked to run bombs to an orphanage.”
“Oh, come on, I would never bomb an orphanage. Well, I mean, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t.” We both laugh.
Something about being here with Eve reminds me of the drive with Charlie. I feel comfortable with her. I’m not sure I like that.
“So, where are you taking me?” I ask, deciding it would be best to keep this strictly business-related.
“After seeing that you’re stupid enough to try running across the desert, I think it’s in the best interest of the rebellion if I stick around.”
“I work alone. I don’t need any tagalongs.”
“You don’t have much of a choice right now, unless you want me to tell Carl here to stop the buggy and leave you out here alone.”
“Sounds like a great idea,” I bluff. “Carl!” The man in the seat turns around to look at me with a giant grin.
“Nevermind,” Eve says to the madman. “Cyrus, be reasonable. You know you are in no shape to run right now. And you definitely can’t be left out here alone.”
She’s right. I don’t like it, but she’s right. I still have no interest in having her tag along, but I’ll leave that discussion for later. “Fine. I don’t see how we’re going to get this thing to Boston though.”
“It won’t, obviously. But it should be able to get us at least as far as Utah. There’s not much for border patrol between Utah and Nevada, so if we’re lucky, we might be able to get across state lines before we have to ditch the wheels.”
“And–?” I ask, gesturing to the driver.
“Carl? Wouldn’t be able to get him to come with us if we tried. He’s a dirt devil, never able to get himself out of the desert for too long.” She yells up to the front. “You’re heading up to Black Rock City after this, right Carl?”
Carl nods, giving us a big grin and thumbs up before turning to face front. His cheeks push his goggles up as he laughs. “Black Rock is one of the oldest rebel camps,” Eve explains. “It’s been around almost since the start. It’s just a bunch of people living out in the desert, but it’s kinda cool, I guess.”
I see a large marshland off to the right. “Where are we?”
“About halfway to SLC. I believe these are called the Ruby Marshes.”
I hear The Geek in my ear. “She’s right. You’re just on this side of the Utah border.”
Eve notices my face as I listen to The Geek. “What’s up? You look concerned.”
“Oh, no, it’s just The Geek.”
“The who. My little brother.”
“That’s cute. You’re worried about him, huh?”
I laugh and hear The Geek snort in my ear. “No, not really.” I pull my ear piece out to show Eve. “You see, he made up this little device that lets us talk to each other while I’m on a run.” Eve takes the device out of my hand and rolls it over in her fingers.
“Hi Geek!” she yells at the device. I laugh as I think of how The Geek is probably cursing her for yelling into the piece. “Aren’t you scared of the SPs overhearing your conversations?” she says, returning her attention to me.
“Geek claims he found a radio frequency the SPs don’t use. I tend to trust him on that techie stuff. We’ve been using this for over four years now and never had any problems.” I take the ear piece back from Eve and return it to my ear.
“That’s pretty cool. The rebels would pay anything to get their hands on something like that. Or the SPs for that matter.”
“Yep,” I nod in reply.
“Got any other tricks up your sleeve I should know about?”
“A magician never reveals his secrets.” She smiles at me and without thinking, I smile back.
The Geek breaks the moment by singing in my ear. “Cyrus and Eve sitting in a tree-”
“Shut up, Geek.” I say.
“What’d he say?” she asks.
“Nothing. Just being an idiot. Mind if I close my eyes for a bit?” I ask. “I’m still feeling pretty haggard.”
“Totally. Get some rest. Me and Carl have some catching up to do anyways.”
She climbs into the front seat as I lay my head down. I slip my headphones on and close my eyes. Higher and Higher by Jackie Wilson. I curse The Geek silently.
Sleep doesn’t come easily for me. I don’t know if I should trust Eve or Carl. I have a pretty good history with Eve, but either one of them could be planning on turning me in for the bounty, or both. It doesn’t help I’m stuck in this buggy and not in control of where I’m going. I should probably be grateful they saved me, but I can’t help feeling uneasy at having companions along for the ride.
Before long we stop on the side of the road to refuel. Carl has ten gallon containers of gas in the storage area under my seat, meaning I’m forced to get out and stretch my legs. I’m not really sure how far that can get one of these vehicles, but I would guess he’s not one to make too many stops at gas stations if he can help it, seeing as they are typically riddled with SPs and questions.
Carl assures me we’ll get to Salt Lake City in no time. I decide it might be a good idea to eat something, since sleep and I aren’t on the best of terms. I rifle through my bag and pull out the sandwiches from my provision pack. I offer one of them to Eve, which she takes happily. If she’s planning on turning me in for the bounty, I might as well try to buy some good will in case it might change her mind.
Carl has an unidentifiable hunk of meat he pulls from the same area he stores his fuel. He offers some to the two of us, as there is plenty to go around. However, the smell of gas drifts off the meat and makes me want to vomit. I decline his offer. So does Eve.
Back on the move and I notice the sand here is a bright shade of white, instead of the brownish-yellow stuff that almost buried me alive. Carl tells us that we’re entering the Salt Flats, which means we’re crossing over into Utah. We’ve only got a couple hours left until we get to Salt Lake City, so I should try sleeping again, hoping the full belly will put me and rest on better terms.
Since I intend to lose Eve the first chance I get, sleep is of the highest importance right now. The quicker I can move once we’re off this stupid vehicle, the easier it will be to have her eating my dust. Of course, she wouldn’t stand a chance against me even at half speed.
Sleep comes easily this time, but it feels like only minutes before Carl is waking me. I look over and see Eve had decided to get some rest as well.
It’s a lot greener here than when I fell asleep. I rub my eyes as I wake, ready to use this moment to get my head start. Unfortunately, as soon as Carl wakes her, Eve’s out of the vehicle and tightening her shoelaces.
“Come on, slacker. We can get some good running in while it’s still dark.”
Oh well, I can still lose her in the woods. “Yeah, I’m coming,” I say grumpily.
I drag myself out of the buggy and pull my pack over my shoulders. Carl is anxious to be on his way, so we exchange quick goodbyes and he’s gone, leaving me alone with Eve
“Geek, you there?”
Eve watches me intently. There’s silence. “What’s he saying?”
“Nothing. Probably sleeping or something. Geek!” I yell.
“So, he’s always there, waiting for you to contact him?”
“What?” I hear a tired voice speaking in my ear.
“Hey Geek, we’re just south of Salt Lake City. Checking in to see how we’re doing?”
“Hold on, let me check.”
“Oh, I can tell you that, Cyrus,” Eve cheerfully offers. “We’ve got about twenty-five hundred miles left. Which means, running straight through without stopping, other than the regular breaks, we could make it in about 15 days.”
“She’s right,” The Geek agrees.
“Awesome,” I say, realizing that the dune buggy actually might have been a blessing. “So, we actually have a chance at this, huh?”
“Well, if you think you can actually run without sleeping for the next 15 days, sure, but even then we’ll be a day late,” Eve says, smiling.
“At your fastest, it will probably take you at least 30 days to run the rest of the trip.” The Geek seems annoyed that he’s no longer my only source of information.
“Hey, that’s still something, right?” I cheer. “I mean, we’ve cut off quite a bit of time already.”
“You’ve definitely made it pretty far in a small amount of time,” The Geek responds. “You’ve made it as far in one day as I calculated you’d make it in ten.”
“What’s he saying? I’m feeling a little third wheel-y here.” I scowl at her briefly, before deciding to avoid the confrontation.
“Hey, Geek, Eve’s feeling left out.”
“No problem, give her your headphones, I’ll patch through to your music player. The earpiece is what actually does the broadcasting. You’ll just need to stay within twenty feet of each other for them both to work.”
I hand my headphones over to Eve. She moves the hair away from her ears and I feel an inexplicable flutter in my stomach. I catch myself staring at her.
“Hi Geek!” Eve says excitedly.
“Hi Eve,” The Geek says, sounding agitated.
“It’s really nice to meet you!”
“Yeah, you too. Okay, so like I was telling Cyrus, you’ve easily got 30 days left before you reach Boston, if you go only on foot.”
“That’s pretty much what I had come up with. Although I’m sure we could do it in 25 without too much trouble.”
“Watch out, Cyrus. You’ve got some competition here.”
“Psh,” I shrug and give Eve my most patronizing of looks.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” she blushes as she smiles again. Did she smile so much when we were together in the canyon? “So, do we have a plan? That’s what you do, right Geek? Plan?”
“You’ve got about 50 miles to the Wyoming border. How rested are you guys feeling?”
“Great!” Eve chimes in quickly.
I’m not feeling nearly as certain about myself, but can’t let her show me up. “Yeah, Geek, ready to run.”
“What have you got for provisions?”
I open my bag to look at what’s left of my level 3s. “I’ve got two apples and an orange.”
“I’ve got 3 bottles of water left, but no food,” Eve offers. “I know where we can get some more provisions just outside of SLC.”
“Remember, I’ve got a bounty on my head. Splits are pretty dangerous for us.”
“Don’t worry about it, Cy. They’re old rebs. They run a little ranch seven miles out of the city. The SPs don’t even have them on their radar.”
“How can you be sure of that?” I ask, still not wanting to trust her.
“I just am, okay?” she smiles again.
It sounds too perfect, but I am really low on supplies. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to have her tag along for a little while, at least until I can refuel.
“That sounds perfect,” The Geek says. He seems too eager to have her tag along. I don’t like it.
“Well,” I interject, “let’s go already. You lead the way.”
“Totally,” Eve grins. “Hope you can keep up.”
Go to Chapter Eleven