When Earthlings Attack


gabriel_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title When Earthlings Attack
Synopsis Sand is overrated. It's just little rocks. Gabriel and Teo attempt to improve their lot in life when the opportunity presents itself.
Date April 10, 2009

Certainly Not Wisconsin

The critics can go ahead and shut the fuck up: they do have a plan.

Hana wouldn't like it, but then, Hana rarely likes anything. It was the best they could do going on three days without food and outwalking a diesel truck. It was a shitty truck and no competition at all for the vultures and orioles sent after it, but despite habits and snide insinuations, Gabriel Gray is no vulture, and Teodoro Laudani no songbird, even if sundown does see the latter setting down as if to roost today.

There's a Sicilian by the side of this rough, red Marsian road, sitting down on a boulder of impressive size but interchangeable make, his feet dangling down toward the brutally ugly black rifle toppled down there. Barring the fresh discovery of clumpy, colorless, and completely inedible tufts of wire-textured sawgrass, everything about this damn place is red, and it in turn gets red on everything else. Teo's skin shows in angry red patches of sunburn where the gaps in his armor and khakis show, his big Finnish nose resembling Rudolph's.

He's tired from uncomfortable sleeping terrain and walking in the cold. That helps his nerves somewhat. Fearless from deprivation, his gaze does not waver from the vehicle approaching, cloud of dust roostertailing up behind it, the men's newly broken campsite well out of sight.

As the details of black-skinned faces and engine grille sharpen into view with proximity, he only straightens at the sight of a dead lion's head jouncing underneath its cover of tarp, roped down to the roof, stray puffs and locks of mane curling in the passage of wind. Well. Fuck. "You were right," Teodoro remarks, to the no one else in sight.

About the lion, he means. About Africa, although what he should probably be paying attention to is the sudden bristling of weapons. He's been spotted, and soon come are the consequences of having too much in the way of morals to proactively ambush somebody battened down for the night.

Gabriel thought Antarctica was bad. And it was. But at least it was the kind of place where you either got rescued or you died. None of this half-dead limbo, heat waves distorting the world. The sun beats down like a bully and peels skin, cracks mouths, and any power Gabriel has to escape it takes up too much energy, energy he no longer has, true hunger outweighing his special brand of Hunger like perhaps the latter was some passing fad in comparison.

"I told you," Gabriel says, from where he's standing beside the boulder, telescopic sight narrowing in on their target. He can't tell if the extreme exhaustion he'd felt the first few days has been shaken off, or if Teo's merely caught up with it. Sunburned to hell, the heat now making the skin at bared shoulders go lobster-pink and start to flake, his coat and overshirt abandoned in a dusty heap on the desert ground. In comparison to Teo, he looks bared and vulnerable, no body armor, no assault rifle, just a black wife-beater stained with blood from days ago and jeans that used to be black gone a rusty brown, as much as his shoes.

There's the slightest sound of electrical currents, and a ripple of bright white lightning like substances goes rippling over Gabriel's form, and then another skein of electricity, and another until it's a constant glow, too washed out in the bright sunlight to see.

"Cover me. Protect yourself. I'm gonna go say 'hello'."

That's the plan as they know it. Casual as you please, Gabriel moves from the boulder and onto the flattened dirt track that counts, barely, as a road. Despite the fact that the truck is starting to slow and not from friendliness, especially if the bristling of rifles and shotguns is to be of any indication, Gabriel Gray puts on his best smile, even if his lips have gone dry and cracked like the desert ground itself. He raises an arm in a big, arcing wave. Greetings from America.

Two of them! There are two! Despite that neither Gabriel nor Teodoro speak Setswana, it is pretty obvious what those faces behind the windshield are shouting at the sudden appearance of the second man. There's gesturing. Safeties clicking off of rifles built to take down animals larger and, to all appearances, sturdier than either the erstwhile serial killer and rust-splattered knight.

"I owe you five bucks," Teo agrees, resignedly. He stoops and snags up his rifle by the strap. Its long, heavy shape flips expertly into his grasp; lands a little wrong on his radius, but he is too busy feeling other things to dignify the jarring reverberations where gunmetal met bone with a wince, never mind a spoken curse.

He puts a lot of stock in biological research and medicine, but whoever said you can survive thirty days on only water ought to be shot.

Maybe after these guys.

Poachers do not, on average, pay a lot of attention to regular road safety rules. Ikechukwu Nwabueze leaps out of the vehicle while it's moving, hits the ground with a slithering snarl of conflicting textures, rubber and road. The barrel that Gabriel winds up staring past is as large as the one Teo had brought to Moab. Heartbeats and engine noise drone up behind him; four heartbeats to the one engine, and all of the former human.

Ikechukwu shouts something, authoritative, his voice as harsh as the carrion callers' in the hot air— a fitting metaphor on various levels. As another poacher joins him on the ground, an English phrase strays in. Put down. Put down.

Teo doesn't put the gun down.

Which annoys everybody else involved a great deal, judging from the roughening notes in their voices, and probably wouldn't have even if he were doing a better job of keeping recognition off his haggardly chapped and peeling face. A fatal if easy miscalculation pegs Gabriel as an unfortunate hostage, or else subordinate. Ikechukwu squares his sights on the Sicilian; the shadow of his rifle is a strip that would go straight up between Teo's legs if you lengthened it with a pen and a ruler.

Mandarin, smatterings of Hindi and a handful of Latin words, and of course a whole lot of English, makes up Gabriel's bank of languages. The foreign words he can hear with ringing clarity make no sense to him, but it's in their gruff, aggressive delivery that communicates what is important.

In short, the men in the car are not happy to see them. Or Teo's gun.

Gabriel doesn't call out, just smiles, waves, continues walking at a brisk pace he's not sure he can maintain for much longer. He probably looks delirious, and it wouldn't be far from the truth, but harmless, that's enough of a misconception. The raised hand he has to get their attention falters a moment, seeing close enough to watch a man's eyeline swing on over to the Sicilian several feet behind him. Fair enough.

There's no verbal warning, when Gabriel's hand suddenly lowers, extends out as if imploring them, and his fingers make claws in the air. The truck shudders, and a startled cry comes from the remaining passengers, before the steering wheel jerks out of control around the same time, with a pulling motion, the car suddenly swerves to the left. It would be good if he didn't flip the car, such things come so rarely out here, but it swerves all the same and kicks up a cloud of desert dust almost too thick to see through.

The vehicle rams into one of the poachers having jumped out of it, and comes to a screeching, shuddering halt when the driver kills the engine. His passenger, having stood at the wrong moment, is rolling on ruthless Mars road, scraping elbows and knees.

The sound of gunfire is loud to Gabriel's ears, to Teo's too, but in African desert, in the wider scheme of things, the sound is swallowed up.

After the falling towers and missiles in Moab, Mars had seemed overly quiet. Now, the return of the noises of war are jarringly loud in contrast. The human capacity for adaptation at work, even if neither Gabriel nor Teo feel like they've adapted exceptionally well. Killing people is like most other physical acts: muscle memory helps, and you get better with practice.

At point blank range, Ikechukwu loses a chunk out of his right arm large enough to guarantee that he's going to lose the whole thing, if he gets out of this alive. There's a chunk as wide as a human fist gone from his humerus, and the rest of the thickly muscled limb hangs off tasseled muscle strings like it was tied on there.

From the bulge of his eyes, it hurts like Hell— but however excellent the excuse of a telekinetically flung truck provides, his instant of hesitation had cost him one arm already. He's quick as a cat on his feet, muscular grace rare for a man his size; the next rifle round bites into the dirt behind him as he races toward Gabriel. A tongue of steel flashes out from his hip, a knife aimed squarely for the base of his head, to sever cervical vertebraes like a lion's teeth segments a bison's.

Teo doesn't fire at him, of course— hitting Gabriel with an automatic firearm doesn't seem like a better idea than hitting him with a knife. Instead, there's a sharp warning— "Behind you—" even as he drops into a crouch, knocking shoulders with the boulder for comraderie, and swerves the rifle to pick up where Gabriel will leave off, hailing bullets at the truck's alighting passengers.

He can't remember the rifle having this hard a kick back in Utah. Feels like a mule thrashing against his ribs.

One man falls in two pieces before he can remember his gun. Lasers that glow so blue they're almost purple go lancing out, soundless, and cuts with an almost merciful speed. Legs crumble, supporting only the barrel-bottom of torso that spills its contents onto the road while the other, more complicated half of a ribcage, arms, lolling head goes tumbling back.

Behind me?

Gabriel goes crumbling forward when the knife impacts high up his back, and in the chaos, perhaps Teo will see a flash of blood. But no, the shine on the man's blade is clean, and it goes falling to the ground when Ikechukwu experiences what it might be like to try and brutally stab a steel wall. Gabriel's forcefield flickers, flares, and dies around the time Ikechukwu is suddenly pinwheeling through the air in a sudden jerk of kinetic energy, landing hard on desert ground.

The sound of glass shattering and bullets punching metal is a backdrop that the former serial killer turns towards, seeing a third man go down under Teo's assault of gunfire. The other has disappeared behind the car, the whispering click of ammunition almost as loud as panicked breathing. Gabriel waves a hand, as if to implore Teo, this one is mine, and he goes running. Ikechukwu may look up, grasping his bleeding arm, to watch one of the crazy white terrorists, or whatever, take off at a run towards the vehicle, boots stamping red concrete and kicking up dust.

There's a desperate, hungry quality in the way Gabriel moves at a lope, straight into what would be the line of fire. He'd spoken, once, of broken ribs to Teo, so that must hurt. And by the time the other man is gathering his courage to stand, to swing his gun around and fire a few shots— the bullet passes through Gabriel's shoulder and lets out a glittering ruby spray of red in the air, making the killer's run swerve, falter, knee hitting the ground— the poacher is being yanked like a ragdoll over the car.

The gun falls with a clatter, and as soon as Gabriel's hands reach the man, drags him down with him, grey dust will mix with the red dirt that still lingers in the air. Bullet wound closes, ribs knit together, and a skeleton crumbles beneath camouflage fatigues.

As the bones and cloth slough down toward the ground, shatter, and blow away, Teo doesn't look— directly at it. Gray powder tendrils skyward in his peripheral vision, and he finds himself reflecting, wryly, that he had thought he'd been pretty badly off with his arm fucked six ways to Sunday.

He's cringing faintly in misappropriated sympathy, back behind his lowered eyelids and inside his dirt-riddled clothes. He feels that reverberation of death even through the scorched throb of his own abused hide. Doesn't know why; certainly doesn't begrudge Gabriel taking that dose of health for himself. Eyes red-rimmed and raw with heat exhaustion stay on the one remaining mark.

Ikechukwu in the dust, down one knife, one arm, and his ability to use his rifle. Bleeding like a stuck pig, black eyes constricted to pinpricks as he stares in horrified amazement. News of the Evolved runs rampant worldwide after two years, easily including Africa in its net, but this is a thing apart. Some ghastly import, refugee out of Hell, demon or god, or sentient weapon air-dropped from a country that realized the murdering darkness of its ill will had begotten something even greater than itself.

All the other men are dead.

He decides, naturally, to negotiate. The skin of his palm is pale, cafe-au-lait compared to the deep dark of his hide; flashes up and out at the white men, a flag of surrender. "Peace," Ikechukwu says, as if he knows the meaning of the word. He stays on his knees, something cunning and simultaneously desperate about the slit of his eyes. Dead human dust eddies around his knees and his ruined arm gleams bone and sinew. "Help. American? American?"

"No," Teo answers, meaninglessly. His mind is still slogging through a shaking sea of heat wavers and hunger. Shattered pips of laminated glass tumble away from his shoes as he trods nearer, glancing sidelong at Gabriel. The gun is heavy. "D—" stop. Start again. He's coming up on dehydrated again, too. "D' we need him?"

Human ash and African dirt now colours Gabriel's wardrobe. He's rifling through the remains he kneels in, and slants a resentful look towards Ikechukwu as if maybe the man is being impolite for not dying while the adrenaline was racing, while the Sicilian might not care as much. He doesn't answer, at first, getting to his feet with a lot more ease than he'd been moving before, and tosses the found canister of water towards Teo. No more feeding him with a dead woman's ability, unless this new found supply runs out.

They'd better not be out here for that long. The lion's head droops from where the massive beast is secured, and one paw and slipped loose in all the excitement, huge with tiny insects crawling in its fur. The smell of car fumes, blood, and beast is a new variation from the scent of human sweat and desert that he and Teo have put up with for the last few days.

Gabriel is dusting off his hands of wet ash, looking towards Ikechukwu with a sharp gaze of amber-brown beneath a heavy, sunburned brow. "We could stand to know where we are," he finally decides. You know, besides Africa. A mercy granted for as long as the injured man remains useful, and then what else is there to do?

He turns his back on both, and wanders towards the car, stepping over the outstretched arm of a dead man. There has to be food. There's certainly a radio. It's a bit like Christmas.

Teo has enough presence of mind not to come so near to the black man that his weakness becomes apparent through fear. It might well be his undoing, coming too close, shoving that gun in the inured man's face.

He needs a free hand to catch the water bottle, anyway. Doesn't unscrew the cap yet, or swallow all its contents in one long gurgle, however tempting it is. He stares at Ikechukwu until the sturdy sheen of the man's skin holds inside its uncertain outline. "Africa," he rasps. He points at the ground with a filth-rimmed forefinger, indicates the rest of the desert, albeit shrubbed now, with an arc of an arm. "Egypt? Niger?"

There is mild incredulity on Ikechukwu's face, only half-concealed by pain. Okay. Two lunatic white people jump a truckload of poachers with a creative mix of guns and superpowers; don't know what country they're in. He's quick to answer, however, when Teo scowls and scuffs another step forward. "Kweneng," he says. His voice filters through the stagnant air, reek of organic decay, blood, and acrid tang of spent gunpowder and into Gabriel's enhanced hearing. "Botswana."

Then comes the thump of the bottle hitting the ground near his feet, throw overhand by the Sicilian.

The approaching crunch of footsteps follows, seconds before Teo's shadow ribbons up into view off to Gabriel's left peripheral. "I d'no a lot about medicine," he croaks, a toad's conversational register, "but I think he's gonna die soon if we don't do something about the arm."

"He tried to kill me," Gabriel says, his own voice coming out as if filtered with savanna pebbles, scratchy and dry, also carelessly neglecting the logic of the fact that they were attacking them. All the same, it was a bad day for mercy. He glances over a shoulder towards the crumpled Ikechukwu, now almost bent in double as he tries to grapple with a stomach-churning amount of pain.

"But I can take from you, give it to him," he continues, conversational in defiance of gravel-dry tones, leaning into the back of the truck, finding a backpack that he turns, shakes, lets the contents spew into the back seat. "Then he'd live."

Another water bottle, a glossy map, binoculars. A flat bottle of whiskey, untouched for some unknown celebration, slides across the leather seat and glints with deathly temptation. A packet of beef jerky. A bundle of something that Gabriel hopes is food. Personal effects, not good enough. Camp can't be too far off, at least. Gabriel picks up the water bottle, unscrews the top and takes two swift gulps, just as stagnant and stale tasting as the water he conjures from mostly dry air, but at least it doesn't have to be filtered over dusty palms.

The truth of Gabriel's words can not be denied. Rings in Teo's ears slightly, or that might merely be the aftershocks of sonic force through the air combined with dehydration and generalized discomfort.

He pulls open the opposite door of the truck. A dead man tumbles out, ushered down with a kick of his shoe, crumples into a heap of beefy, blood-smeared limbs and fragmented glass. He take the next bottle of water he sees. Drinks, finally. One drop strays down his powder-caked lip; he catches it with his tongue, rescrews the cap and looks at the binoculars so he doesn't have to see Ikechukwu's struggling figure.

"Okay," he says, in a voice that comes smoother. "But I think you should take his memories first. If you can do that, we can leave him here with some supplies and take this truck.

"'S that make sense?"

Maybe. Obviously not? Generally, Teo can tell when he's about to do something idiotically humanistic, but even the internal checks that he usually ignores aren't operating normally right now. Mercy is a luxury he has no idea if they can afford. He tightens his fingers on the strap of his rifle, glances up at the lion's paw above his head. He starts to lean in and check his reflection in the rearview. Changes his mind, with a grimace; he doesn't want to know.

A drained bottle, formerly of water, clatters to the ground and rolls across dirt, spilling a couple of drops. Gabriel raises a hand to rub across his face, smearing dirt and ash that's caked in from sweat, and looks through the truck to look at Teo contemplatively. In the heatwave haze of his own mind, it's hard to discern if this is a good idea or not. One blink, two blinks. Teo agreeing to give some of his life for the dying man behind him.

It's then that a smile splits itself across Gabriel's face, bright white teeth in contrast to a dirty, unshaven face, and a rasping, rusty chuckle gutters out from deep in his chest. "Get in the car, Teo," he says. There's pity in his voice, amused pity. Condescension. "You'll have to drive." He pushes himself away from the truck, boots cracking and gritting broken glass beneath thick soles.

Long strides carry Gabriel back to Ikechukwu, who raises his head and watches, baleful and uncertain, as the darker of the two white men approach him. His abandoned knife is picked up, and the gun is kicked aside, a useless clatter of metal and plastic against the rocky ground. He's rendered rigid in place, unable to move save for darting wide eyes, tiny black pupils swimming back and forth in the pools of white. Fate crawls closer.

"He's helpless," Teo argues, unbelievably, to save a killer with a killer — both of them arguably more effective at said task than he is himself. Hapless in the older man's wake, he tramples around, ducks out from under the lion's shadow, almost on the corpse that had fallen out of the cab, turning up packed dirt and dust underfoot. "And he helped. Just now." Not that he'd had any other choice, of course.

Not that they know he isn't lying. Sweat-crusted clothes gnaw his skin as he stumbles after Gabriel, speaking too fast for Ikechukwu to make any sense of.

Not that Ikechukwu can hear anything over the din of his own sympathetic nervous system hammering terror through his body, surely, or the surge and roar of pain too great for his brain's endorphin output to quell. "Enough people have died over the past few days, don't you think? And what difference does it make? This is all we need. The truck, whatever's in his head. Cyberpath, teleporters, mo— I'm not just bullshitting you," the Sicilian mutters, nevertheless subsiding. He stares at the black man held prisoner by his own body.

Several feet away from the kneeling injured man, Gabriel comes to a halt, turning to look at Teo with a look that communicates both weariness and disbelieving irritation. "You gunned down one of his men," he says, quietly, but nevertheless severely. "Any of those three might have helped us and you wouldn't be giving this a second thought if I snapped his neck in the heat of the moment."

And it's all about moments. Gabriel knows exactly what the Vanguard would do, in this instance, without hesitation. Take everything they need and leave behind nothing. "You want to save him, maybe make up for some damaged karma? What difference does that make?" Unraveling at the seams a little, Gabriel gets into an argument he wouldn't have bothered with, and his voice cracks around the emphasis of his words, like a twig over a knee.

Heroes. Gabriel lets out a dog-like snort of contempt, and turns his shoulder to the Sicilian, moving to kneel by the puppeted, unmoving man.

"He gets a fighting chance to live. That's the difference it makes," Teodoro grinds out.

For all his gritted-tooth conviction, however, he's having trouble keeping a handle on this situation: the practical part of his mind has maneuvered around the obstruction of Gabriel's agreement, is marching on to consider the radio in the truck, and wonder if there is anything in the way of walkie-talkies between the hunters. Unlikely. Unfortunate. He claps his one still-gloved hand over the side of his face, a gesture halfway between smearing it clean and slapping the world back into focus.

Ikechukwu and Teo stare at each other for a protracted moment. The Sicilian doesn't flinch when the serial-killer blows patronizing noises in his general direction. "Not to undersell the importance of karma," he adds. He presses the heel of his hand past his lips, feels flaps of desiccated, dead skin pull loose like so much paper. "Bonus: I'll shut the fuck up if you'll do it. Please?"

The sky above him swims into view when Gabriel rolls his eyes. Maybe he could just kill everyone and simplify things substantially. Not so long ago he might have. "We don't have time for this." They also don't have time to argue, but—

"You shot him, and I'm not going to fix it for you." Amber-brown eyes sweep up and down Teo's dust-caked, worn down body, back up to blue that remains free of the invasive red of this desert. "And I'm not going to compromise the only person who can get me out of here in any amount of time so I can find Gillian, and Eileen, and whoever else was thrown to whatever corner of the world Peter chose for them."

Gabriel's teeth flash between words in a quiet snarl, the scowl creating new lines in his dust-covered face, anger obvious, as irrational as it may be. Anger in this conflict being brought up now, of all times. Being asked to show mercy to prove he's not a villain, now. "Now why don't you go work on that. Your conscience is not nearly as important. And neither is he."

Being Sicilian, Teo can pull arguments out of thin air, it seems. Magic trick. His eyes crease shut for a brief moment, burning, and it is difficult to tell whether he is puffing up in preparation for another spurious quarrel or if he's about to burst into tears or what.

Neither, it turns out. Both baby blues click back open again.

The first argument holds more water than all the rest, peculiarly enough. He — hadn't fucked up, exactly, but if there's one thing Teodoro understands, it is the absence of take-backs.

His mouth draws into a thin line, like wire stretched tight between pincers, a wrinkle in the dirt canvas that otherwise suffices as a face. "Ottimamente," he grunts, stepping back. Gunmetal clicks behind him.

The anger goes as soon as it came, and Teo is treated to a resentful look from Gabriel, and silence. Good. Done. Moving on. Tucking the familiar looking hunting knife into his own belt, Gariel turns his back to the Sicilian, and finally, descends down to kneel beside the doomed man, in all his pain and paralysed terror. One hand, rough from manual labour and erosive sand, rests on the back of Ikechukwu's heated neck. There's a ripple of muscle, a twitch against the oppressive force of puppetry, and Gabriel's eyes close.

The poacher will only know a small headache as his mental being is duplicated and psychically tugged free, a flinch crossing the killer's face as the transition is made. There's pain, and fear that tastes like metallic bitterness in his mouth, hand on the man's throat clenching a little as he knows sympathy pangs shivering up his arm. The dread of death.

But beyond these things, information. Wrenching his hand free, Gabriel has to stumble a little through the dust under the assault of memory and emotion. Getting to his feet is a chore, but at least the strings of control are snapped, and Ikechukwu slumps forward, cursing rapidly in his native tongue.

Acceptance does not come to Teo with grace. Few things do. One of the tribulations of being at odds with one's religion. It filters into things, gives seemingly random and unrelated aspects of one's life an unwonted rhyme and propped up on contrivances of reason. He can blame a lot of things about the way he is on being Catholic. From letting a man die, to be reluctant to do so.

His right arm jack-knifes out to grab Gabriel by the shoulder and another hand closes around his elbow, buttressing the taller man's haphazard stumble with a spate of genuine concern. Any fight he could have expected from Ikechukwu goes out when the man, true to metaphor, falls as if his strings had been cut, into a crumpled, canvas-clad heap on the ground, dust smearing underneath his sliding face and the back of his shaven head gleaming dully. Everything fucking stinks here. And Teo's still thirsty.

"C'mon," he says. Teo knows enough about telepathy to realize that absorbing the memories of a man in Ikechukwu's predicament could produce weakness and pain. He lists back toward the truck and the scattering of ragdolled corpses around it. "I'm fucking starving."

Teo is gripped onto when the help is offered so suddenly, in much the same reluctant but needy way Gabriel, then Sylar, had held onto Eileen the first time he'd done this, to keep him upright and moving. Still, there's distance kept, only a hand forming a fist around a clench of Teo's shirt and weight leaning heavy in the Sicilian's grasp, before lessening, taking a hiss of breath and allowing himself to be guided to the truck. He's quick to let go, to grip onto the vehicle and pull himself inside. Wouldn't want this to be gay or anything.

The passenger door of the truck closes sharply, Gabriel slumping heavy into the seat as if overcome with a migraine, eyes squinted against the glare of sunlight and a hand drifting to his brow. "Camp's behind us," he mutters through gritted teeth. "Mile and a half. I'll show you. «Drive.»" That word isn't spoken in English, or Italian, or even Mandarin. Then he isn't saying much at all, hands up to clasp and press against his temples, back curved, and he can almost feel it when Ikechukwu Nwabueze gives into unconsciousness not so far away.

He knows that name. How many Nwabuezes in the world can there be?

At least two too many, it seems. Teo glances back over his shoulder as he and his compatriot lurch away from the heap of human agony in the dirt. The wisdom or kindness of dropping a bullet into the man's head had crossed his mind, briefly, but it's gone without ever reaching actualization.

He lets go promptly and without protest. No, this isn't gay at all.

Circling around to the other side of the cab, Teo hauls the door open, the clunk and grind of heavy metal dulled by his own exhaustion and the atmosphere so heavy with heat that even soundwaves strain to broach it. The rifle is safetied and tossed in ahead of him. He gets in with difficulty, seesaws against chapped and straining leather until he's in the middle. His boots masticate the broken glass underfoot.

Long seconds after the command was dispensed in this language Teo can not understand, he kicks the truck into life. Noxious diesel fumes rope into the air behind them, streaking black against the harsh light over Botswana. Tires rattle, toss. Swaybacked and as beaten as its erstwhile owners, the truck scrambles onto the packed dirt track and starts its crawl.

It's cooler now. Dusty wind poured on both men's faces through the gashed windshield.

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