* * *
Chapter 7: The Country with a Prophecy
-We NO the Future-
A lone road cut through the forest.
The forest was dark and deep, crowded with tall coniferous trees. Ferns sprouted from the moist earth underfoot.
The road went from east to west, wide and once meticulously paved but now cracked and faded.
Small saplings grew out of the cracks in the pavement. Seeds must have landed in the tiny patches of dirt in between and put down their roots there.
One little sprout stood in middle of the road, its two leaves basking in the blinding sun.
A lone motorrad was traveling down the road.
In the blink of an eye, its who wheels ran over the little sprout and left nothing behind.
The motorrad continued westward.
Compartments hung from either side of its rear wheel, atop which was stacked a suitcase and a sleeping bag. The metal mug dangling from the compartment shook and clattered.
The rider was a young human in her mid-teens.
She wore a black jacket and a thick belt. Strapped to her right thigh was a holster housing a revolver. A slender automatic persuader was secured behind her back.
The rider’s head of black hair was covered by a hat with a bill and ear flaps. She also wore silver-rimmed goggles that were peeling at the edges.
Finally, she tapped on the motorrad’s fuel tank and said, “I see it.”
A wall of green stood in the forest. The boundary of a country. The walls leaned outwards as they reached the apex, drawing an elegant arc. Pillars stood supporting it at regular intervals, and dark green vines crawled up the entirety of its surface.
The motorrad came to a stop at a point with a full view of the walls.
“I’ve never seen ramparts like these before,” the rider said, still on the motorrad.
“Yeah,” the motorrad replied, “It’s beautiful. And the shape is really unusual, too.”
The rider stared at the walls for some time, not saying a single word.
“What’s the matter, Kino?” asked the motorrad.
Kino gave a faint smile, her eyes hidden beneath her goggles. “It just occurred to me. When I was little, I never thought I’d end up traveling so far.”
“No one knows what’ll happen in the future. Like they always say, who knows what the dark will bring?”
“You mean, who knows what the road will bring?”
The motorrad said no more.
“I wonder if that’s even the right phrase to use,” Kino mumbled. “Let’s go, Hermes.”
Kino put Hermes into gear and slowly rode down to the gates.
“The world is ending?”
“The world is ending. At the break of dawn on the day after tomorrow,” the immigration officer said firmly at the gates. She continued, “If you wish, we can still grant you a three-day stay as you requested. Although that will mean you will face the end of the world in our country.”
Kino stared. The woman was dead serious.
The woman in her late twenties was the only person at the guardhouse near the middle of the heavy gates.
“How exactly is the world going to end?” Hermes asked from a short distance away.
“We have no idea.”
“But we do know that the world will soon end. Our lives too, of course. We have accepted this fact. It is unavoidable. Absolute,” the officer said, grim.
“Er…how do you know the world will end?” Kino asked.
The officer nodded. “That is an excellent question, Traveler.” Then she said resolutely, “Because it has been foretold.”
Kino stepped through the gates and got a view of the sunset city at a glance.
In the distance, she could just make out the walls on the other side of the country. The great circle drew a gentle arc around the city. Large thoroughfares fanned out from the middle of the country, with farmland and residential districts alternating in between. Greenbelts had been left intact, and nestled within were orderly rows of houses with thick, round brick chimneys. At the very center of the country were several tall buildings and a lake that glimmered gold in the light of dusk.
“It’s beautiful on the inside, too,” Kino noted.
Hermes agreed. “Yeah. I like the log houses, and how the city layout fits the geography. But the prophecy says it’s all going to end the day after tomorrow, right?”
“The prophecy, huh.” Kino mumbled.
The immigration officer had not explained who made this prophecy, or why. She simply said—completely resigned to her fate—that the prophecy would come true and the world would end, and that nothing could change this future.
Then, out of nowhere, she had burst into tears. Nothing Kino or Hermes said could console her. Kino had given up and entered the country.
“What now, Kino?”
“We’ll ask around and find a place to stay,” Kino replied, climbing onto Hermes. Without starting the engine, she kicked off lightly and rode down the hill. They headed for the nearest street.
They reached a wide road lined with shops. But none of the stores were open, and no one was out and about. Not a single car was on the road.
“It’s like a ghost town,” said Hermes.
They finally spotted an old man sitting blankly on a crate, and asked him for directions to a hotel. He silently pointed at a larger building a slight distance away.
Kino knocked on the door, and the middle-aged manager eventually answered. He was flabbergasted.
Kino introduced herself and explained what she was doing.
“You’re a traveler, you say? You just arrived and want a room here?”
The manager went on to ask her how long she intended to stay. She replied that she would check out on the morning of the day after.
“The day after tomorrow? I’m sorry to say, it looks like your journey’s going to end here in our country,” the manager said, echoing the immigration officer.
When Kino answered that she did not mind, the manager led her and Hermes to a luxurious room.
“It’s free of charge, Traveler. Not much use in money when the world is about to end. …Make yourself at home,” he said, opening the windows and dusting off the tables. He then left the suite.
Kino unloaded her things from Hermes, took off her jacket, and flopped onto the massive bed.
“So the world’s gonna end tomorrow? I wonder what this prophecy could be?” Hermes wondered. Kino was already asleep.
The next morning, Kino rose at dawn.
She did light exercises, then maintained Cannon—her revolver—and Woodsman, an automatic hand persuader. After doing drills with her persuaders, Kino showered.
Watching the sun rise over the ramparts in the distance, she had rations for breakfast. Then she smacked Hermes awake and went out sightseeing.
People sat around on benches and chairs outside the stores on the street. Their stares were vacant. Not even the sight of Kino and Hermes seemed to rouse their interest.
“This is weird,” Hermes mumbled.
“Everyone looks so resigned. ...Or maybe not quite everyone.”
Without warning, Kino stopped Hermes in the middle of the road. She quickly put down his side stand and leapt off.
Hermes soon learned why.
A young man brandishing a lead pipe was rushing towards them, eyes bloodshot. Onlookers were visibly shocked.
Kino stood in the man’s way. He swung.
Turning, Kino kicked at the man’s legs. He crumpled forward, scraping himself against the pavement.
Kino stamped her heel on his hand and took away the lead pipe. Then she slammed it down hard on the man’s back.
The man desperately turned his head. “Die, damn it! Die!”
“What in the world is going on here?” Hermes wondered.
“Damn it… Damn it…”
The young man began to weep. A middle-aged man emerged from the crowds in the distance and came up to Kino.
“I’m terribly sorry about this, Traveler. Will you please let the man go? I promise, we won’t let him pull any more stupid stunts like this.”
Kino looked around at the people. They all looked apologetic. She took away the lead pipe, and the middle-aged man gestured for others to take away the sobbing young man.
“I’m very sorry. The young people are having a hard time, poor things, trying to accept it all. It’s such a relief that you were capable of handling yourself. Again, we are so sorry about this.”
Kino looked at the middle-aged man. “Was he acting that way because the world is going to end?”
The man nodded. “That’s right. Our young people still had their entire futures ahead of them, the poor things, and some of them just can’t accept what’s going to happen. Even older people like me are scared, even if we’ve lived long enough.”
“What’s this prophecy about, anyway?” Hermes asked. The man seemed taken aback.
“You don’t know about the prophecy?”
“No. Could you please tell us about it?”
The man led Kino and Hermes to a nearby restaurant. Round tables and seats were arranged inside, filled with people sitting blankly. People turned when Kino entered. It was dim inside, as the lights had not been turned on. Only the ceiling fans quietly rotated in place.
The man introduced Kino and Hermes to the others. Kino propped up Hermes on his center stand and took a seat at a table.
“The traveler here doesn’t know about the prophecy,” the man explained. Everyone was surprised. They brought over their chairs, looking a little more excited.
“Then it’s only right that we explain.” “It would be awful to die without knowing why.” “Yeah. Especially since you’re going to die here, of all places.” “Don’t forget to explain about the great scholar.” “Let me explain too.”
“Then let me begin,” said the man who led Kino and Hermes to the restaurant. He asked the others there to correct him if he got any details wrong. “I should start with the Book of Prophecy and the great scholar who successfully deciphered the document.”
The other patrons nodded.
“The Book of Prophecy?” “What kind of book is it?” asked Kino and Hermes.
“Unfortunately, we have no idea who wrote this book, or when. All we know is that it was a confounding text published in a distant land long ago. It’s so abstract that we all used to think it was a madman’s journal. But as it turned out, it was a book of prophecies that predicted our future with frightening accuracy. The one who decoded this book and learned the truth was the priest in the southern district, our country’s foremost prophecy scholar.”
“How did he find out it was a prophecy?” asked Kino.
“Forty-two years ago, he tried deciphering the book half out of curiosity, and noticed the hidden messages, The book was written in a code that used metaphors and combinations of different characters to predict the future. The page and line numbers corresponded with the years and months these events would occur in. Trembling, the priest continued to decode the book, page by page…”
The man paused there and took a deep breath.
“As he went through the book, he found more. More and more prophecies,” he said grimly, as though he were reliving the moment the priest realized the truth. Everyone held their breath.
Kino looked around at the patrons. “What did the book predict, specifically?”
This time, the other patrons spoke up as well.
“It described the great famine 198 years ago.”
“We used to have a royal family here. And the book described how the king 122 years ago died of a sudden illness. And how it was a sickness that made his nose fall off!”
“We had a massive chestnut harvest eighty-seven years ago, and there was so much that we couldn’t get rid of it all! That was written in the book too!”
“It predicted how the queen mother 143 yeas ago fell from her horse and broke her leg.”
“The bloodless revolution fifty-four years ago, and how the weather went from clear in the morning to rain in the afternoon. It was all described in perfect detail, all the way down to how the former king died a gardener!”
“And how there was an awful flood in autumn, forty-four years ago because of heavy rainfall! The lake wouldn’t drain for half a year! The number of characters on the page was the exact water level of the lake!”
“Even the big fire in the northern district twenty-five years ago. It even predicted which house would be spared. And that the owner of the house was an eighty-nine-year-old woman! I got chills down my spine when I heard this one!”
“Twelve wanderers came to our country in the winter, twenty-three years ago. It was all in the Book. It predicted how all of them, except for one who was too violent and cruel, would settle in this country. And how one of the wanderers had a name that started with a ‘Te’. The whole thing made headlines.”
“The Book predicted how a pharmacist in a blue shirt poisoned people with his concoctions nineteen years ago. Can you believe how it even got the color of his shirt?”
“The hailstorm ten years ago in early summer, and how it decimated farms. I still remember it like it was yesterday…”
“That’s not all! It even records how we boil tree sap to make syrup…”
Kino waited for everyone to have their turn before she asked, “Er…did the priest tell you about these things before they happened?”
The middle-aged man shook his head. “No. He pointed us to the passages after the fact.”
“What?” Hermes said, “then he could just make—”
Kino kicked Hermes. “I see. I think I understand the situation. But how does the prophecy for tomorrow go?”
“Ah yes, the end of the world… The final passage in the book goes like this: ‘After the night of the nineteenth full moon, the sun shall rise on the end of the world. To us is left one action: to break the green plate.’ Green plates symbolize life in our country. We give them as birthday gifts. In other words, no one will be born after this time. All we can do is grieve.”
“Then the book’s afterword—”
Kino kicked Hermes’ frame.
“This prophecy was publicized about thirty years ago. The priest was hesitant to announce it, of course, but he decided that he could not bear to keep the people in the dark.”
“It must have been terrifying.”
“Of course. For a month or so, the whole country was despondent. But we all knew how real the prophecies are. So we accepted our end. The priest told us that the important thing was to live to the fullest until the end. But if I had to be honest, many of us thought tomorrow was still so far away,” said the man.
A woman drinking in the back spoke up. “And now it really is tomorrow. Time flies. All we can do now is sit around drinking together…”
“Don’t put it that way,” someone else said sadly. “I mean, it’s easy to say we have to live to the fullest, but it’s hard in practice. And that made things even more depressing. I can’t take it.”
“I understand.” Kino said gravely, nodding.
“What are you going to do now? You only have a day left,” said the man.
“I’m going shopping,” Kino replied.
“What would you do with all this stuff when the world is going to end tomorrow?” asked the manager of the general store, coming outside.
“Maybe it won’t,” Hermes said.
The manager nodded in understanding. “I can see why you might think that way.”
“You still don’t believe the prophecy, Traveler. But I understand. I used to be the same way. I came around eventually, after seeing how all the prophecies came true. So I’ve accepted the end. I’ll just live to the fullest until then.”
“I see. Then I choose to shop. It’s a luxury for me because I’m always on the road,” Kino said.
“I guess that’s all right. Everything in my store is free. Take it all. I’ll die happier that way, I think.”
“Just what I can carry, thank you. I like the knives on display. Could I have those, please?”
“Would you like to pray with us, Traveler? It might bring you some peace of mind,” said the owner of the restaurant Kino was dining at. She politely declined his offer and returned to the hotel. The hotel manager was praying with his family.
The next morning. It was Kino’s third day in this country.
Kino rose at dawn.
A light mist blanketed the entire country, but there was an unsettling air in the city. Some people were running from their houses and down the streets as the world grew bright.
Kino was still doing her persuader training when Hermes woke up on his own, surprising her. “The world’s going to end now, right Kino? I woke up because I couldn’t wait.”
“Yeah,” Kino replied, wiping Cannon with a piece of cloth. “So much has happened.”
“Wanna go see the world end?” Hermes asked.
“Yeah. Just let me finish.”
Kino holstered Cannon, then began doing left-handed drawing practice with Woodsman.
“Why train when the world is gonna end?” Hermes wondered.
After working up a good sweat, Kino took Hermes outside.
The fog had lifted. The air was cool and the sky was a clear blue.
People were crowding the plaza at the city center, situated next to the lake. They were praying desperately towards the east.
“It’s going to rise soon,” said Hermes. Someone standing blankly nearby trembled.
The murmurs of prayer grew louder and louder until a bell began to toll. It tolled on and on and on like mad, and beams of sunlight began shining on the taller buildings.
Soon, the blinding sun rose over the walls and shone over the entire country.
People gasped and screamed.
“The sun’s beautiful today, too,” said Kino.
“Yeah. We’re in for a good day of riding,” Hermes agreed.
The sun had risen completely, and was three times its own size from the horizon. People stopped praying and began to mutter. The muttering eventually gave way to anger.
“Is the world over already?”
“We’re still alive, though.”
“The sun’s up.”
“Damn it. It can’t be…”
“Was the prophecy wrong?”
Soon, someone called, “Hey, there’s the priest!”
A black car came to a stop nearby, and a kindly-looking old man in heavy clothing stepped into the middle of the plaza. He was surrounded by his followers.
Everyone’s eyes followed him. Kino and Hermes watched from the back.
“Ahem. Everyone,” the priest said stiffly. He was speaking through a megaphone.
There was a moment of silence. Countless icy gazes were on the priest.
“B-beautiful weather today, don’t you agree?”
“Who cares about the weather? What about the prophecy?” someone barked.
“Well, about that matter…”
Someone else cried, “You weren’t lying to us, were you?!”
“N-not at all! I—I know exactly what the last passage meant. It said the world was going to end!”
“Then why’re we still alive? You said it was going to be today!” a young woman demanded, and burst into tears.
“That is to say, I…”
The priest panicked, and more voices began to demand an explanation.
“All right, fine! Fine! That’s right, everyone. The world is over! It’s all ended!” the priest howled into the microphone.
Everyone but Kino stared in shock.
“Listen!” the priest said, handing the megaphone to a follower. He spread his arms wide, his sleeves fluttering in the morning breeze. “Listen to me!” he cried, “You! And I! We all believed the world was going to end! That the world would end when the sun rose today, just as the prophecy says! That is exactly the point! The prophecy was correct! Because! Because! The ‘world’ we lived in until now! The world where we thought the world would end today because of the prophecy! Is over! The world you have lived in has ended! And a new world has come! Yes, the prophecy has come to pass!”
Several seconds passed in silence.
The lake’s surface trembled at the wave of anger that followed.
Kino and Hermes watched on for some time.
The angry mob tried to get to the priest, who was desperately protected by his followers and the devout. He escaped with his life intact.
Even as the people hurled insults at the priest, however, they were visibly relieved. Some were hugging tightly and sobbing.
The owner of the general store Kino had visited the previous night spotted her. When Kino expressed her relief at the world not ending, he put on an awkward smile.
“By the way, Traveler, about yesterday…”
“Thank you for your generosity,” Kino replied with a smile, “I accept your hospitality.” The owner walked away with a smile of disbelief on his face.
The priest was creeping out of the plaza with his followers, shoulders drooping, when he stopped halfway into the car.
He looked up; utter horror spread across his face.
Without warning, he grabbed his megaphone from a follower and shouted at the top of his lungs, “E-everyone! You must listen to me!”
Everyone gave him their full, undivided, unbelieving attention.
“L-l-l-l-listen closely, everyone! Today was not the day! I just realized! I only just realized, everyone! This is important, you must listen to me!”
Although his followers tried to stop him, the priest continued to yell.
“Th-the world will end soon! I made a mistake! I assumed that last night was the night of the nineteenth full moon, but that was a mistake! Do you remember, everyone? There was a lunar eclipse on the fourth full moon! The moon disappeared! Which means that today is not the day! We should have counted out the night of the eclipse! Koff! Koff!” the priest continued, even through his coughing fits. “Then! It makes perfect sense for the world to not end today. It’s the morning after the next full moon! Then the world as we know it will end! You must prepare yourselves!” he declared.
A nearby man snatched the megaphone from his grip. “Oh really? Don’t believe his lies, everyone! No one knows what the future holds!”
There was a deafening round of applause.
The priest stood blankly. But he was soon pulled into the black car by his followers. The car departed.
“We should get going too,” Kino said.
Kino and Hermes left through the western gates and looked up once more at the curious walls before making their way down the road.
They climbed up a gentle slope to the top of a hilly mountain and turned. The country they had left was tiny in the distance.
“Three of them,” Hermes muttered out of the blue. Kino nodded.
Stopping Hermes in the middle of the road, she shut off his engine and propped him up on his center stand.
They were surrounded by woods on either side.
“Who’s there? You don’t have to hide from me,” Kino cried, still wearing her hat and goggles.
“Excuse us!” said two men, coming out of the bushes. They were in their thirties, dressed like travelers or perhaps lumberjacks. “Sorry about that. I guess people hiding in the bushes are naturally suspicious,” one of them said, chuckling. “Are you a traveler?”
“Yes. Where is your friend?” Kino asked.
“He’ll be out soon.”
Finally, the third man emerged. He was dressed like the others. The men introduced themselves as being from the country beyond the mountain range.
“What were you doing here?” Hermes asked, “Looking for rare herbs?”
The men exchanged glances. One of them said, “Traveler, could you keep a secret? We have an interesting story we want to share with you.”
“I’m afraid not,” Kino said, climbing onto Hermes. The men panicked.
“Now, now. Listen. It’ll be worth your while, I promise. This’ll be one to tell all the other travelers you meet along the way. We’re actually scouts from the country seven mountains away. We’re pretending to be lumberjacks and keeping tabs on the country you just came from.”
“Why?” Hermes asked, idling. The men grinned.
“We’re going to invade that country and slaughter everyone inside on the morning after the next full moon.”
“What are you talking about?” Kino asked coldly.
“Exactly what it sounds like. After the next full moon, we’re going to invade at sunrise and kill everyone there. We’ll destroy everything there completely, so no one will ever know there was a country there to begin with.”
“Ooh, why?” Hermes asked, surprised, and added quietly, “Because of the prophecy?”
The men’s eyes turned to dinner plates. They exchanged shocked glances. “Yes! That’s right! How did you know about it?”
“What are you talking about?” Kino asked again.
Excited, the men launched into an explanation. “Our country has something called a Book of Prophecy, deciphered by a man who immigrated twenty-two years ago. It detailed multiple events that happened in our country with frightening accuracy. It’s never been wrong. All our floods, pandemics, accidents, and incidents were predicted by this book. Every time something happened in our country, this prophecy scholar pointed out the section of the book that predicted it ahead of time.”
Kino and Hermes were silent.
“And you see, the final passage in the book refers to the end of the world! We were all terrified. But the passage also explained a way to avert the end!”
“How?” asked Hermes.
“This is how it goes: ‘After the night of the nineteenth full moon, the sun shall rise on the end of the world. To us is left one action: to break the green plate.’ The nineteenth full moon here is talking about next month’s full moon. Once that night passes and the sun rises, the world will end. And the only way to prevent this is to break the green plate.”
“That’s why you’re going to destroy that country?”
The men nodded. “That’s right. You must have noticed. The walls, the geography, that country is shaped exactly like a green plate. It’s astounding how the scholar realized all this. We owe everything to him.”
“But isn’t total destruction kind of going too far?” Hermes wondered
“Not at all. If that country isn’t annihilated, the world will end. This issue affects more than just our land. You’ll die too if the world ends. Our scholar says that he has no idea how thoroughly the ‘plate’ has to be broken, which means we have to destroy it completely if we want to be safe. We have a responsibility to act, because we know that the end is coming. The night of the nineteenth full moon is coming. Astronomers passed over the month with the lunar eclipse, so the next full moon will be the day of reckoning. Our countrymen must be busy with preparations back home.”
“I see,” Kino said quietly. “Thank you for the explanation. If you’ll excuse us, then.”
That was when the men surrounded her.
“Traveler, did you really think you could listen to this story and leave alive? It would be trouble for us if you decided to go back to that country and tell them what we’re planning. We wouldn’t be able to save the world. Please forget us and everything about the prophecy on your way to hell.”
The men drew hand axes from behind their backs and lunged in unison.
Kino leaned back as though having lost her support. Three blades cut the air above her. She lay on the road, holding Cannon in her right hand and Woodsman in her left.
Three gunshots shattered the air. Followed by three heavy impacts.
Three men fell to the ground, holes gaping through their necks.
“You know, it just occurred to me,” Kino said, reloading Cannon, “When I first met Master, I had no idea that I’d be able to take care of myself like this. I never knew I’d get so good at handling persuaders.”
Hermes, who stood with his engine turned off, replied, “No one knows what’ll happen in the future. Like they always say, who knows what the dark will bring?”
“I wonder if that’s even the right phrase to use,” Kino mumbled, completely reloading her persuaders.
Holstering Cannon, she looked around to see if she had not left anything. Three hand axes and three bodies lay on the ground.
“Let’s get going. Who knows what the road will bring?” she wondered, climbing on.
“Yeah,” Hermes replied.
Kino started the engine.
* * *
Chapter 8: Bodyguards
The gates were magnificent.
Inside was a facility for loading vehicles with fuel and water. An enormous trailer truck was parked there.
The trailer head was equipped with a front-facing bumper guard over the engine, designed to knock back and kill anything that got in its way. Behind the engine was the driver’s seat and a small cabin where several people could sleep. Workmen were loading food onto the vehicle, which was essentially a home on wheels.
Four large containers were connected to the trailer head. It all looked like a short cargo train. Each container had eight wheels on either side, half-shielded with plate metal. None of the containers had any windows.
A walkway strip and handrails ran down the center of the roof of the first container. Standing there was a woman.
She was young, with long dark hair. The woman was dressed for mobility without sacrificing elegance, and was armed with a large-caliber revolver holstered on her right side. A rifle-type persuader was secured to her back.
A man stood on the roof of the next car. He was also young, slightly short but handsome. A slender automatic hand persuader was holstered at his left, and in his right hand was a large-caliber rifle equipped with a drum-shaped magazine.
“Master,” he said to the woman, and cast his gaze downwards, “The client’s daughter.”
A young girl dressed in red stood beside the trailer head. She was glaring up at the woman.
The woman walked over to the roof of the trailer head and climbed down the ladder. She went to the girl and crouched down to her eye-level.
“Hello,” she said.
The girl asked, “You’re the bodyguards Father hired?”
Smiling, the woman said that they were.
“I don’t need bodyguards!” the girl spat.
The woman gently asked her why.
The girl replied, her eyes fixed straight ahead. “Because only God can decide our fate. If I die, or we all die, that will be His will. You’re going against what He wants.”
“You don’t mind if everyone else dies?”
“If it’s fate, I don’t,” the girl declared.
“It’s still our mission to protect you with our lives, Miss,” the woman said, never once losing her kindly smile.
The trailer was crossing the wilderness. All they could see for miles around were the blinding sun, the blue sky, the dry, red earth, the rocky mountains, and the clumps of grass dotting the landscape.
The trailer had been going without rest since dawn, the drivers taking shifts to keep them moving. It left a wake of dust longer than the length of all the containers put together.
The two bodyguards were on standby on the roofs of the containers, both wearing goggles and slinging persuaders behind their backs. They were secured to the trailers with ropes hooked onto the handrails on the containers.
It was a little past noon.
“Master! Ten o’clock direction!” the man cried. He quickly readied his rifle.
About twenty cars were approaching from ahead, clouds of dust riding behind them. Modified miniature buggies, loaded with men armed with persuaders.
The trailer accelerated. Black smoke spewed out of the exhaust chimney as the train of containers charged relentlessly forward.
The attackers surrounded the trailer and opened fire. The bullets bounced off the trailer. The male bodyguard put his rifle on the cushion secured to the handrail and pulled the trigger.
There was a deafening boom as a shell casing leapt into the air. One of the buggies screeched to a stop, steam rising from the engine. Three more shots. Three more stopped buggies. The other buggies fell back slightly.
That was when the trailer slowed to avoid a pit. The train of containers twisted like a snake. One of the buggies took advantage of the opening, pushing against the trailer and sending sparks flying. One of the attackers leapt onto the trailer head and grabbed the ladder.
“I’ll take care of him,” said the female bodyguard, heading to the trailer head with one hand pulling her hook along.
The attacker climbed up. A window on the trailer head opened and someone leaned out. The attacker immediately guarded, but when he realized that it was a little girl, he grabbed her by the collar.
He dragged the girl outside with a single hand, and forced her onto the roof. The girl seemed to be in pain.
The attacker held the girl with his right hand and put a persuader to her head with his left.
“Stop,” the female bodyguard demanded, pointing her revolver from atop the container.
“Perfect timing!” the attacker grinned, “Get in there and tell the driver to stop this truck!”
The trailer accelerated again. The wind howled even more loudly.
“Snap to it! Or the girl loses her head!”
The attacker pushed the muzzle of the persuader against the girl’s head. As if on cue, her calm broke.
“NO! I don’t want to die, please! Don’t! Let me go! Let me go! I don’t want to die! Help me!” she cried, eyes wide and face pale. Each time she shook her head and squirmed, droplets of tears scattered into the air.
The woman said coolly,
“I suppose I have no choice.”
She holstered her revolver, unhooked herself from the handrails, and moved over to the trailer head.
“Please…” the girl squeaked, crying, as the woman walked past them.
The woman grinned.
“Hurry it up!” the attacker barked, turning his gun on the woman.
A second later, the woman grabbed the cylinder of his revolver. Now he could not cock the persuader, which meant it could not fire. Horror spread over his face, and holes were driven into his right shoulder. Blood spewed from them.
Confused, the attacker looked down at this own right shoulder. The woman snatched the girl from his grip with ease.
Two cars behind them, the male bodyguard was pointing his automatic hand persuader, a model with a square-shaped barrel. He opened fire.
The bullet pierced the attacker’s knee. His leg bent powerlessly. Staggering, he rolled off the roof. There was a look of disbelief on his face for two seconds before he hit the ground.
His limbs splaying in unnatural directions, the attacker disappeared into the dust behind them.
The buggies were retreating. The woman cast them one last glance before pulling the sniffling girl into a hug.
The next morning.
The trailer safely passed through the gates of a large country and stopped at the plaza just inside.
Local workmen began to unload the cargo. They opened the container doors and pulled on the chains inside by car, hauling out the fettered people inside.
The people were covered in vomit and feces. Other workmen sprayed them with water. Anyone who could not walk was expertly unbound, dragged to a large pit nearby, and shot in the back of the head before being dropped inside.
The bodyguards had just unloaded their things when the client, his wife, and their only daughter came up to them.
Beaming, the client thanked the bodyguards profusely and offered a handshake.
The client’s wife gave their awkward daughter a gentle push.
The girl in red went up to the female bodyguard, who knelt on one leg, and said quietly but clearly:
“Thank you for rescuing me.”
The female bodyguard smiled just as kindly as she had before.
“You’re very welcome. But remember, it was your God who saved you, not me. He didn’t want you to die yet.”
The girl gave the female bodyguard a hug. She returned it and gave the girl a gentle pat on the back. The sound of gunshots broke the air.
The female bodyguard asked the client if they needed protection on the way back. The client replied that their containers were empty and that the route they planned was unknown to their enemies, so they did not need any bodyguards. But he asked her if they wanted a ride back as well.
The woman asked the client about the route before declining, saying she wanted to go back immediately.
“So that’s the route they’re using. I’ll thank you for that,” the man said to the two former bodyguards.
The man and the others glaring at the duo were the attackers who had assaulted the trailer by buggy.
He was the leader of the crew, standing in a hideout inside the rocky mountains in the desert.
“Now if you’ll give us our compensation, we’ll be on our way,” said the woman. The leader stopped her.
“You killed one of us. Why?”
“You hired us to find out which way the trailer would be coming back. If we wanted to accomplish that mission, we had to kill him. He didn’t stick to the plan,” the woman said matter-of-factly. she could hear grinding teeth.
“He was a brave man,” said the leader, “He had everyone’s respect. And he was my brother. The only person in my family those bastards didn’t manage to kill.”
“Really?” the woman said, disinterested. The men brandished their weapons, glaring. That was when the partner took off his jacket.
“Wow, it’s hot in here.”
Wrapped around him were rectangular plastic bombs shaped like wads of clay. Silence fell over the hideout.
“…Enough. Take this and go. We can take care of the rest ourselves.”
The woman counted her pay and turned. She walked away.
The former bodyguards were crossing the desert in a small, rickety car. The barrel of a rifle stuck out the window; there was not enough space for it.
The woman was driving. Her partner was taking bites out of the portable rations wrapped around him, making a face like he was eating clay. When he offered one to the woman, she refused.
“Master,” he said.
Several seconds of silence passed.
“They’ll attack the trailer, won’t they?”
“Of course,” the woman replied without a hint of concern.
“Is that all right?” the man asked.
The woman did not answer.