Chapter XV: A Stranger

It felt as if I had been driving forever... I noted the distance that the moon had traveled along the darkened sky. It had been about an hour or so since we set off from our departure of The Miraxis Index, from that surface access tent. Peculiarly, I still found myself awake, strumming with an endless desire to assure myself that all that we had experienced would be distant, as far as it could be. I had yet to encounter any signs of life, needless to say there had been no mark of civilization either. Maneuvering about the now tall and foliage peppered dunes; I noted that I had no view of anything behind the natural obstacles around. I kept a clear eye on the Cartographix.

The route provided by Sir Dusk led to a Northeastern corner of Morocco, a bordered segment that appeared separated from the rest of the nation. We were definitely close, and I knew that if the Cartographix’s layout proved correct, I was bound to encounter a clear road eventually.

I maintained a sense of calm; driving along the staggering terrain… I was filled with limitless relief. We had escaped from The Miraxis Index, escaped from a lie. I thought wishfully of life outside that eerie facility, but I found myself wearier of our future, for we had decided to follow Sir Dusk’s plan. Whatever it was, it involved traveling down a path he had laid out for us, and that we did.

Keeping some attention on the winding paths ahead, I made a quick peek over to Gina; she was absorbed within a great slumber on the passenger seat, wrapped within the large jacket I had been left by Sir Dusk. Between us, in the center of the vehicle, a small insert for containing items held the few possessions we had. Once more, that black folder caught my interest. However, after speaking with Gina earlier, I dared not touch it. What we had gone through had built an infallible trust between us. Though I was admittedly curious of her emotions on the folder as well as its contents, I dared not break our vow to keep it shut.

Finding myself distracted, I turned back to the windshield, gazing to the land around. Amongst the sandy hills now bearing the scattered plots of desert vegetation, I caught on to the growing density of greenery. I was surely severing from the desert, and hopefully, entering a populated zone. At the end of the day, a recognizable buggy driving alone from the site of escape must have been obvious to those who searched for us. I held no doubt that the true escape was far from over; running from captivity and running from those who held us captive were two different things entirely. Therefore, I drove on; weary of eyes above us, eyes behind us… Eyes everywhere.

Some time passed…

The vast sky above was tinted in a dim shade of orange; dawn approached. According to the Cartographix, I must have been only seconds from encountering a road, public or otherwise. My imminent encounter with the motorway was located just beside the border on that glowing map. As soon as I caught the path, it would be smooth sailing. At least I hoped so. My winding throughout the hybrid desert terrain proved rough, and I was afraid that the jarring ride would disrupt Gina’s nap. Luckily, it seemed that her slumber was beyond the turmoil of those movements.

I had demonstrated limitless patience throughout the drive, but now that I knew we were so close to the open road, I began to rush myself. Lightly, I pushed the accelerator a bit harder. I leaned forward, as if I would gain visibility of everything outside of that vehicle. I had swerved about countless sandy hills and spaced bunches of desert plants, could I not just catch the sight of a road?

Finally, my wish was fulfilled.

As soon as I noted the wide stone path, I slowed to a halt. When the gliding dust from the vehicle settled, I carefully looked around. I lowered my window and pushed the vehicles fabric cover outward so that I may lean outside for a moment. I had a clear sight of what I wanted to see.

It was just a road, empty and barren. It was of old concrete that had become rough with cracks and missing segments. It was bathed in the grains of the thinning desert around, coated in layers of sand and soil. Where I had emerged, I was facing the road sideways and had a choice of joining to the left or right. The Cartographix had the answer, and I had been aware of it during the entire drive.

This was it. If I moved forward and turned left, I would join the road upwards, a small rising path that would lead to the Moroccan border and the ultimate destination Sir Dusk had laid out for us. If I headed right, I would release us from everything that we had experienced, detach us from our very lives, and leave everything relative to our fates to unfold without our presence. Gina and I had already made our decision. We wanted to follow the path he had for us. Maybe we were no longer part of that dark facility, but we knew, deep within us, that our destinies were forever tied to that of Sir Dusk and his intentions. We were compelled to follow his words.

I made a quick glance in either direction, reached my conclusion, and gently turned the steering wheel left. I pushed the accelerator pedal and merged into one of the barely visible lanes. Immediately, the rough surface of the desert had faded and the ride became a little softer. There were no speed limit signs or indications of any sort, but just as well, there was no traffic. I continued at a moderate speed, not too fast or too slow, and kept a watchful eye in the mirrors as well as the windshield. Looking to the Cartographix, I knew that this road ran a short distance to Sir Dusk’s final destination, a glimmering point just at the border on the way out from Morocco. I could only wonder what I would find at the end…

I could easily feel that the road was becoming even smoother. Visually, the cracks and other faults were diminishing, and the concrete surface grew darker with newer composition. By this point, I had disengaged the Cartographix, for I was so close to the destination that I could no longer see the distance with any clarity on that map. I kept my eyes on the road and looked straight ahead, though the weaving turns and narrow hairpins made any foresight virtually impossible.

I kept my pace, I knew this was not the time to hasten my actions, but as before, I was tempted to speed up. After all that I had witnessed, one of the greatest lessons I extracted from my brief days as a Miraxis Agent was clear: never rush. I had no desire to reflect on my errors in that facility, but I gladly remembered the power of patience. Therefore, I pressed on at a comfortable rate, and it treated me well.

Eventually, the sudden turns stopped and the road revealed a long, slightly curved segment that continued further ahead. Intrigued, I leaned forward and looked into the distance, though a light, misty fog hovering about the surface blurred my view. I instinctively lowered the throttle, allowing the buggy to drift along this road in case anything caught my attention. Finally, I found something other than the endless dunes and hills.

The dimmed red taillights of a distant vehicle enticed me to hit the brakes gently. Soon after noticing those brake lights, I spotted a couple of tall lamps siding the road ahead of them. As I let the vehicle roll forward at a snail’s pace, I began to distinguish the scene. A car was stopped just before a tall gate that filled the width of the road. The gate was lined with a streetlight on each side, and beside the lights were human figures.

Before I made any further observations, I stopped the vehicle, aware of the danger; I had not thought of encountering others. How would I distinguish friend and foe? I knew not if The Miraxis Corporation was still on the hunt, or if they had others that searched for us as well. Gina and I were fugitives of The Miraxis Index; was there anyone we could truly trust? I remained still for a moment, filled with dread as I made my decision. Returning to the Cartographix once more for support, I found that this exact location was where Sir Dusk’s advised path ended. He wanted us to cross the border, and this gate must have been some sort of back entrance, by its remote and isolated appearance.

Anxious, I turned to Gina. She still lay asleep there, and she would be resting until she was no longer feeling tired, yet I found myself seconds from reaching for her. She could help me, and I had no intention of making a fatal mistake here, after everything…

I pulled back. No, I would not wake Gina. I studied the scene ahead once more, looking at that stopped car ahead. Gazing to the outside, I found more of what was occurring; the men near the streetlights were looking in the general direction of the other visitor. When I tried to focus my view, I made out a couple more figures within the thin fog, just beside the stopped vehicle. It looked like they were having an enlivened conversation.

All this idling would accomplish nothing. Harshly, I sighed to myself. Sir Dusk’s path clearly led here. It was up to me to take things into my own hands now. I looked ahead intently, lightly pressing the accelerator to engage with the group ahead. The buggy rolled on slowly, and I approached with caution.

The mist became less dense as I entered the vicinity. The men beside the streetlights turned their attention to me; they were armed with automatic weapons. They appeared to be makeshift border guards, with light armament and casual, sand-drenched attire. As I rolled up just behind the vehicle ahead, one of them waved and made a slow stroll towards my door. Awaiting his approach, I saw that the two figures beside the car ahead were of a suited man and an additional guard. It appeared to be an argument, judging by the gestures of the well-dressed man.

“¿Vas a Ceuta?”

The guard was almost at my window when he called out. Though I recognized the language, I knew little, if any, of it. The guard was speaking Spanish, but more distractingly, my recognition of the language’s origins led me to wonder just what I could and could not recall of my past. Unfortunately, I had no knowledge in the workings of the spoken language.

“I’m sorry… I do not understand.”

He made the final steps to stand just beside the window, but he was also engaged in some sort of note he held in his hand. While observing the contents of the paper, I pushed out against the window’s cover and he continued to speak.

“Si vas a Ceuta, necesitas…”

His words faded when he looked to me, but just when I expected a regret of my choice to approach, I instead found a friendly expression on the man’s face.

“You… You are X-19?”

Somehow, this man recognized me, but when I connected his attention on the note and our location relative to Sir Dusk’s route, I realized what was happening.

“Yes, I am X-19.”

I was appreciative of his attempts to speak English; not only did he recognize me, but he also knew I did not know Spanish. It was clear to me that Sir Dusk had been in contact with this man.

“Good, very good. We will take care of everything for you. A man, he paid us to help you.”

The reassurance from the guard put me at ease. It was so, Sir Dusk had been here, and he had prepared for our arrival. It seemed that these men would manage something for us, but I did not know what exactly would happen. For future reference, I folded back the buggy’s cover just a tiny bit so that I may communicate without the obstacle. I relaxed in my seat as the guard walked away, approaching the two figures beside the car ahead.

It was not until now that I began to observe that halted car. It was a sports sedan, all black including the window tint, rims, and all other accents. I leaned forward a little to see more of the vehicle. The car had the yellow color and decals of a European license plate, but I could not catch which nation it belonged to. With little else to do, I wondered of the man who owned it. Though it was a remote gateway, were there actually many visitors to this hidden border trespass?

I sat silent for some time, all the while, the guard that had spoken to me joined in the conversation of the two men beside the car. The chat was lively and quite lengthy as well. I could only ponder what they spoke of. In an endless wait for the return of the guard, my eyes rolled over towards Gina.

Other than the mellow breaths she made, the girl was unmoving. She was in a deep sleep, for our time in The Miraxis Index led us to embrace shorter days followed by brief and frequent slumbers. Observing her as she lay cuddled upon the seat, I was eternally grateful to see her in such good condition. I still saw those images… It pained me every time I looked at her. It was to no benefit to think such things, but I had been scarred.

“Sir… excuse me…”

With a distracted gaze to Gina, I had missed the return of the guard. He spoke softly and patiently awaited my attention. When I turned back to him, he immediately continued.

“Can you… come with me, por favor?”

The guard wanted me to exit the vehicle… Before I made my decision, I looked over to the passenger seat. I had no intention of putting Gina in a vulnerable position; I could not just leave her there. Perceiving my concern, the guard made a curious remark.

“It will only be… a moment, very quick. We will… let you get back to her.”

The man’s English, though turbulent, was clear. The friendly gestures that followed his every statement were calming. He had no way of seeing Gina in her position and as such, this proved that he had information on her presence, once again from Sir Dusk. I only hoped that I was not making an error, for Sir Dusk was not the only source that knew that Gina and I traveled together.

Nodding to the guard, I turned off the buggy’s engine and made a slow exit from the vehicle. I kept watch of Gina as I departed and as I headed over to follow the man, I continued to glance back to the rusty, sand bathed vehicle.

Casually, the guard led me by the stopped vehicle ahead. With this closer view, I concluded it was a luxurious sports car. It seemed unusual for such a car to be used in a place like this; somehow, it was spotless and perfectly polished. Still walking ahead, I made a few peeks about the improper vehicle, looking for anything unusual.

Now between the car and the gate up ahead, the guard and I stood idling as another guard argued with the driver of the sports car. This other guard had much improved English and he flaunted it to the suited man.

“It’s not about money, listen to me! I have orders to wait… Aha! There he is!”

“What? Who?”

This other guard disconnected from the chat to approach me. He signaled towards me with a pointing finger. His gestures were meant to shift the attention of the man he argued with, but I had become preoccupied with something very alarming. I recognized the voice of that man, in his sharp, black suit, with that vivid red tie. I had not even seen his face before I made the connection.

“Whoa! Xathoven? What are you doing here?”

The very first staff member of The Miraxis Index I encountered… It was the receptionist from the first lobby, the man I encountered moments after meeting Avlis, the man whose disorganization and anxious mannerisms welcomed me, with oddity, to the facility itself. No doubt he worked for The Miraxis Corporation; I shook my head swiftly and threw a stern look to him.

“Wait!”

He called out to me but I was already on my way back to the buggy. This was a mistake; I was exposed now, for I had made the preposterous mistake I had hoped to avoid. The guards returned to their posts as I walked back to the jeep, but I was stopped in my tracks.

“Xathoven, listen to me. I’m not with them, I swear! You’ve gotta believe me!”

Frustrated, I turned back to him, weariness and distrust ringing through my voice.

“You do work for them, I cannot trust you-“

“No, I don’t! I’m telling you-“

“I’m not going to talk to you.”

“Man, Xathoven… You‘d better be kidding, Sir Dusk worked for them too! You trusted him…”

Intrigued, I stopped in my tracks. I stood still for a moment, wondering if this man was reliable. Could I speak to him with any confidence at all? He made a good point, for I fully trusted Sir Dusk, and that great man had worked in the facility as well. More importantly, he was aware of my relationship with Sir Dusk. Slightly upset, I turned back to the man and stepped towards him, ready to accept a conversation.

“If you want me to hear what you have to say, you must explain one thing first; how do you know about me and Sir Dusk?”

“Okay, okay…”

The man seemed very uncomfortable, though I believe this was due to the shock more than anything else. He kept his attention on me and never gave any sign of outside influence.

“A couple days ago, Sir Dusk told me he had a plan to help someone escape The Miraxis Index, but there was no way I would ever believe that!”

“Why would he tell you this?”

“He knew I was on the way out. You have to believe me Xathoven, I was on a quick, one time job. They just wanted me to play the role and go home. I mean, I’ve got the documents and everything in my car if you want to see-“

“No… don’t worry about it.”

The expression on this man told me everything I needed to know. He was not lying to me, or so I strongly believed. Sir Dusk’s directions pointed right here, he meant for this encounter to happen. Though I thought of the possibilities, I came to the realization that something about his expression made me believe him. I dwelled on those thoughts. He awaited a response from me as he stood, anxious to move on.

“Forgive me… It’s not an easy task to determine whom you can trust and who will betray you. I believe you…“

“Riquen, call me Riquen.”

He held out his hand, offering a handshake. After a moment of thought, I loosened up and greeted his palm with mine.

“All right Riquen, It’s good to actually meet you this time. I’m still just Xathoven.”

I refused to give away my real name yet, for it seemed too personal. Slowly I formed trust for Riquen, but I could not just expose myself completely without being sure. He was none the wiser and finally revealed a relieved grin as he shook my hand.

“Thank you Xathoven. It’s nice to see a familiar face.”

I nodded in agreement as we brought our hands back to ourselves.

“Well Xathoven, I think we can help each other out here.”

“What do you mean?”

Now less tense, Riquen gestured back to the guards by the gate, as well as his car.

“These guys have been telling me I can’t go through until someone else arrives, and that someone else is you…”

“Yes, and?”

“This is the, you know, sneaky entrance to Ceuta-“

“Ceuta?”

Riquen continued calmly, replying to my inquiries with clarification and confidence.

“Once we pass that gate, we’ll be in Ceuta. From there, it’s just a smooth ride through the downtown section. Then there’s a quick detour around the outskirts of the city to a masked port-“

“A masked port? What do you mean?”

He shrugged his shoulders and stuttered, but in the end, the clear answer came out.

“Well, you see, The Miraxis Corporation wants everything secret all the time. When they get someone, even someone like me for a really quick ‘hire and fire’, they never use main ports or routes. They’ve gotta do everything in the shadows, you know what I mean?”

“Yes, I understand.”

“Huh…”

Thinking aloud, Riquen gazed into the distance and shook his head.

“I guess that should have been the first sign that they were kind of fishy.”

“Indeed.”

“Anyway, the point I’m making is that if you can get these guys to open the damn gate, I’ll lead you to exactly where I’m going; that way you can get out of here too-“

“Why would you help me?”

“There’s no why Xathoven. When Sir Dusk told me about a possible escape, I knew that was his way of telling me that I was screwed; that was the old man’s way of dragging me into his crazy plan. But he told me nothing about it. So here I am, on my way out, and you just show up behind me. Do you think it could be any more obvious?”

As Riquen had done so, I connected the pieces in my head. This was no coincidence; Sir Dusk wanted him to be stalled here to wait for my arrival. He had thought far ahead… I envied his coordination and planning. Finally, I replied to Riquen’s link.

“You’re right, this is Sir Dusk’s doing.”

“Yep, that man has an insane plan all right, and it looks like we’re all part of it. So what now?”

“As you said Riquen, I’ll get these men to let us through, and you help me get across the sea. I’ll figure things out from there…”

“Thank you Xathoven, don’t worry, this way out is the most discreet technique you’ll find, you’ll be hidden right under their noses.”

“Okay, I’ll take care of this then.”

Riquen waved ecstatically as he climbed back into his car, ready for me to carry out my part. I waved to him and turned my attention to the guards.

Of the three guards, it was clear by the positioning and increase in armament that the man in the middle was the leader of the trio. He beckoned me to him as I approached, and he stood right in the center of the great gate. On my way to him, I looked to the sorrowed sky once more; the sun had risen significantly, though it still was not clear of the horizon. The sky was a beautiful gradient, shifting from a lively orange to a brilliant dark blue. I admired the view, but at the same time, I worried of the loss of darkness; we were losing the cover of the night. I hoped that the trip out through Ceuta and across the Mediterranean would be swift.

“X! Good to see you.”

As I reached the gate, the main guard threw his hands up in glee.

His English was much improved of his subordinate.

“I like you, because of you, we get lots of money. That man, he drops bills from his pockets!”

Lively as ever, the guard grinned wildly as he unlocked the gate. It seemed that I needed to say nothing. Sir Dusk had managed everything here; he had paid the guards to stall Riquen until I arrived, and it all worked together without a hitch.

“You are free to go X, but there’s just one thing I wanted to say…”

With the lock removed, the guard pushed the two sides of the door apart; the momentum of those heavy doors kept them swinging away until they were completely open. He turned to me and pointed to the glowing sun.

“My friend, do you see? The sun rises, dawn goes by… Yet it is the man of dusk, the falling sun, Sir Dusk. He made this happen. It is ironic, no?”

“Yes… yes it is.”

Blissful in his movements, the guard laughed with all of his soul. He was as happy as he could be, with a stash of money literally hanging out of his jacket, the work of Sir Dusk. With the gate wide open, the guard nodded to me and walked to the side. I was free to go, as was Riquen. Before I turned around, the guard that had first approached me rushed over.

“X-19! Listen!”

Sprinting to me, he rushed his slurred words.

“Sir Dusk, he told me to take your car. It is… dangerous he said. You should join the other, the bastard.”

“Did you say… bastard?”

“Mira, his car is all. It says he is stupid. Only a bastard drive a car… like that aqui.”

It looked like Sir Dusk thought it would be a concern to continue using the buggy; the reasoning behind his advice was distant to me, though it likely referred to the fact that The Miraxis Corporation may be able to recognize it. Nevertheless, I dared not deject that tip. I would ask Riquen if I could join him.

The guard returned to his post and everything was ready, but it was now time to take care of the vehicular situation. Riquen sat in his car, distracted by belongings in the seat beside him, all the while his door wide open. He had his car started but was idle until he had finished organizing things. I myself was idle, dwelling on my thoughts of Riquen, but before I could question my own trust of this man, I thought of another who had placed his trust in him too, Sir Dusk. So far, Sir Dusk had given immeasurable help to Gina and I, and though I remained cautious, I was not about to throw aside his efforts and avoid Riquen. I had to trust him, for our sake.

“Excuse me… Riquen.”

Just beside him, I leaned over a little to get a good look into the car. He put his hand up for a second, requesting that I give him a moment, and that I did.

“So this… goes here and… what the hell is this?”

Riquen continued to shuffle things about, and after a moderate while, he finally turned towards me.

“Yes Xathoven?”

“I have a big favor to ask of you.”

“Go ahead…”

“Those men operating the gate, they’ve been in contact with Sir Dusk, that’s why they made you wait for my arrival. They had a good reason for that; one of them told me that they will be taking possession of our vehicle because it’s-“

“Our?”

I became confused for a moment, until I realized that in my suspicions of this man, I had avoided any mention of Gina. Now that I knew this was all part of the plan, it was safe to alert him of her presence, he would have to encounter her eventually anyway.

“Yes, I’m not alone. Sir Dusk’s assistance lead to two of us escaping; a friend of mine is resting in the jeep, she and I were a Miraxis Pair.”

“Wow! I could barely believe he was able to pull off your escape, but two of you? Someone has to give that guy a medal…”

“Anyway, these men will be taking the vehicle from us, so… May we join you?”

Riquen cringed to my request, frowning to himself as he knew the danger. After a moment of that telling reaction, he let out a sigh and turned to the dashboard. As if he was speaking to himself, he whispered aloud.

“I’m damned anyway, hell; why not get a couple fugitives of a multi-billion dollar military corporation?”

Now with a contained smile, Riquen faced me again. He patted me on the arm and nodded vigorously.

“Sure buddy, I’ll open the back doors, you go get your friend.”

“Thank you. Thank you very much Riquen.”

“No problem, now go let her know.”

Gratefully, I nodded to Riquen and smiled. I was impressed by his attitude towards me and I felt confident in his abilities. Sir Dusk had depended upon this man; I believed that we could too. Lest my natural instincts failed me, I could read his face and what I saw was genuine. Inspired, I turned back to that buggy and rushed to bring over Gina.

Standing by her side of the jeep, I silently pulled open the door. Inside, I found that Gina still lay as she did before, but her eyes were a little open. She was aware of her surroundings.

“Marlin…”

Her voice was weak and groaning; she had just awoken.

“How are you feeling Gina?”

“Fine, I’m just a little tired…”

Though healthy, she still appeared as exhausted as ever. I could not forget that I had the privilege of resting back on floor zero, where I was trying to recover from the efforts that had brought Gina back from a distant realm of death. Her most recent rest had been far before that; she needed to make up for lost time.

“What’s going on?”

Gina attempted to pull herself upwards but hesitated to get into a sitting position. Gently, I pulled her up to the seat so that she was no longer lying down.

“We’re on Sir Dusk’s route and there’s a man who will take us the rest of the way. He’s here on Sir Dusk’s account so we can trust him. I just need to take you over so we can get into his car.”

In response to my statements, Gina tried to assert herself more but the signs of fatigue ran all around her.

“Marlin… Sorry… I’m just trying to-“

“Let me help you over.”

“Thank you…”

As softly as I could, I guided Gina down from the tall passenger seat. I tried to be as careful as possible, gently tugging her down alongside me; she shivered in the frigid cold air. By now, I had become used to that sensation.

“It will only be a moment…”

I reassured her as I held her against my side. She kept the thick jacket wrapped about her but it would be of no use in the draft outside. With one arm around her, I used the other to grab our belongings and shut the door of the vehicle. We began the short trek over to Riquen’s jet-black car, finishing as quickly as we had started. Though she was barely awake, Gina kept a forceful walk and refused to give in to her tired body. Riquen left a back door open; as we reached it, I slid Gina inside.

She stepped into that stylish car, its leather seats brimmed with internal heating, and she shifted to the far end. Riquen was in the driver’s seat looking back, and so I entered as well, lightly closing the door once inside. With all openings shut, the car immediately became much warmer. It was amazing how lively it felt. The warm environment acted as fuel to the body. I sat still, absorbing that great heat.

“Ah, you must be Kaiyandra!”

Riquen snapped his fingers as he looked to Gina, a wide grin upon his face. He turned to me and expressed surprise.

“Sir Dusk told me much about her…”

He shifted his attention back to Gina and nodded.

“Oh yes, Sir Dusk’s praise for you was endless, he really admires you.”

Though still in her warm cocoon, Gina extended a hand towards the front seat. Riquen met it with his own, ignoring the difficult and awkward angle.

“It’s… nice to meet you sir-“

“Please, please, call me Riquen. Feel free to rest, you look completely passed out.”

Smiling as usual, Gina nodded to the kind man. His interactions with us felt as caring as Sir Dusk’s had; maybe they were two men cut from the same cloth. Riquen glanced back to me and pointed swiftly.

“You too, you may not think so but you look tired as well. Now’s the best time to rest, it will take about a day before we reach a safe place, I know where to go.”

“Don’t worry, if I feel tired, I will rest. Thank you Riquen.”

“You say “if” you feel tired, but let me tell you something, when I have to disguise you two by covering the back windows with curtains, you’re going to want to go straight to sleep.”

He was very outgoing in his gestures and personality, particularly now that we were on the same page. A shared trust of Sir Dusk was an automatic friendship, as it seems.

“Rest buddy, I know what type of guy you are, I’ll wake you up if anything happens.”

Though I was not feeling very tired, I looked around and began to sense the coziness dragging me in. Riquen’s assurances, as well as the sight of Gina preparing to rest, led me towards a longing of sleep. I felt a great yawn run through me and I stretched my muscles as much as I could. A quick nap did not sound like a bad idea at all.

The enclosed space and overall comfort of the back seat was homely and felt so cozy. It did not help my resistance when Gina decided to lean towards me in her worn out state. I allowed her to fall against me until I could place an arm around her. She was essentially asleep already, and I felt I would soon be too.

Riquen, now looking ahead, tightly clasped his seat belt on. With a quick view of the gauges upon the dashboard, he got an idea of the things he needed to know. Confident, he finally accelerated. Slowly reaching a comfortable speed, he passed through the gate and had officially entered the Spanish city of Ceuta, but by that point, my vision was already fading.

Reaching over to the car’s controls, Riquen turned up the heat. He then pulled his hands back to the steering wheel and continued on; though I could not see out the windshield from my angle, I could tell that he had merged onto a fresh roadway. Now he would take over from the end of Sir Dusk’s route.

Cuddling Gina against me, I felt that everything was finally as it should be. Though the escape was exhilarating and a great relief, there really had been no sensation of peace until now. With the next day in the hands of this helpful man, I felt I could now rest my head; relax my mind. This was a pocket of time in which I could allow this connection of Sir Dusk to take over; I could finally rest. I slouched a bit in the seat and let out another yawn. Just a little nap, nothing more…

“Hey… Xathoven…”

Everything was black…

A voice whispered softly from the nothingness…

“Xathoven… Sorry to wake you…”

I lightly opened my eyes to the scene around me. Riquen was reaching back from the driver’s seat in hasty attempts to wake me up.

“Yes, Riquen?”

I was a second from lifting myself up when I noticed that I was almost flat against the seat, Gina still resting beside me. With a free hand, I rubbed my eyes and nodded to Riquen, letting him know I was awake enough for him to continue.

“Sorry Xathoven, I just thought you would want to know what’s about to happen. We’re in a queue to board a ferry, it’s an independently owned one, no big names here. The problem is that god knows what steps The Miraxis Corporation is taking to find you guys. Now’s time for me to use those curtains I talked about before.”

He gestured to a corner of the back window, pointing out a folded hanging drape I had been unaware of previously. After following his view, I turned to him and spoke with a raspy voice.

“Do you need me to pull them around the windows?”

Riquen pursed his lips and shook his head vividly.

“Xathoven, this car was expensive. That means I can do this.”

Returning to the dashboard, Riquen tapped a couple of keys. Instantly, a mechanism began to hum lightly, pulling those thick curtains across the windows, both the sides and the rear window. The process was slow and gave Riquen time to finish up.

“I’ll have you two hidden until we’re actually on board the ferry, just because there’s usually a government official alongside the ticket collector. Here, I’ll just throw this on top, it’s convincing.”

Riquen reached down and below his seat, removed a large blanket. In his small space, he tried to stretch it out to full size, and then he whisked it towards us just as an additional front curtain began to close him out. The blanket removed all of my vision, but it kept Gina and me underneath a second piece of cover. Riquen was optimistic and though I was a little worried, I thought of his confidence as a boost to my own assurances.

“Okay, you’re invisible. Let me handle everything, just keep quiet and don’t move. I’ll get back to you once the ferry sets out.”

“Thank you…”

Since I had just awoken, I had still not recovered my voice, and though I tried as hard as I could to thank Riquen, I felt that my words were lost in the process. The blanket broke down any resistance I had left against the feelings of fatigue.

Riquen accelerated the car a little, and then he stopped. It was the recognizable pattern of a queue. He did this several more times; each time we moved forward, I heard a distant voice grow louder. I could see nothing, I simply kept my eyes shut and listened carefully to the sounds all around.

Then it was our turn…

Riquen moved ahead and gently rolled to a stop. I heard everything as he lowered a window.

“Show me your pass.”

A strong voice made the inquiry to Riquen; this man was all that stood between us and the ride away from Africa, as well as The Miraxis Corporation, at least for now. I kept myself perfectly still and tuned my ears to the exchange.

“Yep, here you go…”

Riquen must have been holding his pass at the ready, for it was almost instant, the speed at which he was prepared.

“Okay…”

The ferryman’s voice faded as he assumedly observed Riquen’s pass. It was only a few seconds but they were tense.

“You’re good to go.”

I heard the muffled sounds as Riquen had his pass returned to him.

“Thanks.”

A light squeak was heard as Riquen closed the window. We were free to go. He barely touched the throttle to roll us forward; we must have been so close to boarding the ferry. Riquen, aware that I may have still been awake, whispered blissfully.

“All right! Now we’ve just got to-“

I almost jumped to the sudden sounds of knocking against a window.

“So close…”

Riquen’s tone was easy to read, it was the ferryman once more. The car had already stopped as Riquen opened the window in dreaded haste.

“Could you show me your pass again?”

It was indeed the same voice, the same man. Riquen hesitated in his reply.

“Uh… yeah, sure…”

The pass was exchanged once more, but this time, to the surprise of Riquen and me, the tone of the words were brighter.

“Ah-hah! I knew it! You’re from Malynia Hotels, I thought you looked familiar.”

“Oh yes, yes…”

In his words, it was obvious that Riquen had dodged a bullet, but he recovered.

“I’m just here on, you know… business. Just keep it on the down low.”

“Yeah! Anyway, I’m sorry man; it’s just that I never thought I’d ever meet anyone famous.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you. I don’t want to be a bother but I really have to get going-“

“Yes, of course Mr. Alejandra. Goodbye…”

The window was closed once again, this time it was final. Riquen returned to that soft throttle again, bringing the car ahead to the ferry.

“Phew, that was close.”

Exasperated, Riquen sounded as I felt. I was afraid that the ferryman would want to investigate the car or disallow Riquen’s pass. Either result would have been disastrous. We were fortunate that it was a mundane development. I would have to find out later about Riquen’s history.

The car moved forward at a slow pace, and I soon found out why. Even at the current speed, the sudden incline was physically surprising, Riquen driving the car up a ramp of some sort. By the bumps and slight unevenness, I could distinguish the surface of wooden logs below. The climb was short and I soon found that we were back on flat ground once more. Riquen hit the brakes and slowed the car to a halt.

“Well…”

With a deep sigh, Riquen showed his anxiety.

“At least the hard part’s over.”

He continued to himself, taking an optimistic view of what was to come. After a short pause, I heard some shuffling as Riquen moved in his seat. By the sound of his voice, I knew he was facing me.

“I should just leave you two like that. Xathoven, if you’re still awake, I’m just letting you know I’m going out onto the ferry’s deck for a while. It’s a decently sized ship and you’re safe to roam around. I’ll leave the car on…”

Quietly, Riquen opened up his door and exited the car, gently closing it as he was clear of the vehicle. It seemed that it was safe to move now, but I was unsure as to whether I wanted to get up. I pulled down part of the blanket to take a look around.

A vivid blue glow faded about the inside of the car. Lying down on the seat, I was too low to see the immediate surroundings, but I could easily see the sky outside of the front windshield. Dawn had fast approached as I drove to the border of Ceuta and now, that glimpse of orange skies was ending. Looking to the stars, I saw that all but a few persistent ones had faded. It was now a dim yet deep blue color that raged across the heavens, replacing the contrasting orange and black of the rising sun’s horizon. In fact, the wondrous shade that swept the sky was that of my friend’s eyes.

It was the waking movements of Gina that brought me to a sitting position beside her. However, I made no attempt to look outside, for I was encompassed upon the girl close to me. Emerging from the blanket, Gina slowly raised herself until she sat as I did. She had yet to open her eyes, and chose to stretch before doing so. Finally, after rubbing them with her palms, she exposed her eyes to the scene.

There was much to see, much to ask, and much to learn. It was that simple fact that made me feel grateful when Gina chose to check on me before looking for answers elsewhere.

“Hey Marlin, are you feeling well?”

I could not help but smile as she inquired, still visibly tired with her head at a slight tilt and her hands upon her lap.

“Yes, I’m better than ever. How about you?”

Gina countered my smile with her own, hers being the thoughtful display that had empowered me many times before.

“I feel great. Maybe I don’t look like it, but…”

With a slight chuckle, Gina raised a hand to her head, lightly brushing aside her black hair. She made a few glances around and I did the same, but Riquen’s car was in the midst of several other vehicles. We could not see what truly stood outside. The slow tilts and waves of everything around were the signs of the ship we had boarded.

“Gina, we’ve boarded a ferry, we’re leaving this land… The man you met before, Riquen… he is with Sir Dusk. So, it’s safe here. Would you like to get some fresh air?”

Her signs of fatigue fading, Gina nodded gradually and looked straight to me.

“I would love to…”

“All right then, let’s go.”

We shared a look of agreement and prepared to leave the car. There was a brief moment as Gina folded up the blanket and I secured the automated curtains, curling them back in an organized fashion. Once we were complete, I opened up my door as carefully as I could. All of the ferry’s cars were parked closely, making any entering or exiting of the vehicle difficult. Nevertheless, I squeezed out of the car and turned back to help Gina out.

I held the door as she stepped out into the world, her eyes already turning to one place. Once out, she took no time in noting the environment, gasping to the distant sight.

“Marlin, look at that…”

Before I followed where Gina gazed, I looked to her expression. She seemed astounded, and when I turned to see where she looked, I found myself sharing her reaction. Gina made a short dash over to the near edge of the ferry, a simple rope lining being all that stood between being a passenger and a victim of the sea. She stood amazed and I felt a similar sense of wonder.

There, straight out to sea, we had an unbelievable view. The ferry was in calm waters, entering the sea of the Mediterranean region. The sun stood idle, a great force above the waters. Its light already made the sky glow in a thin morning hue, but it was that image of the endless horizon, mixed with the near coast and the distant European lands… It was incredible.

I strolled slowly to join Gina, weaving through the few cars as she had moments before. When I stood there beside her, she threw an arm around me and excitedly gesture towards the horizon.

“Just look at that… Isn’t it the most wonderful sight you’ve ever seen?”

“It is wonderful, and it’s only the beginning. We have a whole world to see once more.”

She looked out to the glimmering waters, absorbing that natural scene, a moment to remember forever. Gazing out to the endless sea, we both knew this was real life. We stood still, allowing the scene to sink into us, capturing everything we witnessed in that wondrous view. As much as I was happy to see the world once more, I was infinitely happier to see Gina there with me. I could never have asked for a better companion. Our friendship held much more depth than the waters we watched.

She kept a still watch into the distance. Nothing needed to be said; everything that we felt was shared simply though our presence. It was just as if we understood one another and the beautiful world we had returned to.

The cosmic sun made its slow ascent into the sky; as it embarked on its journey through the day, we began our own quest. We were revived once again, but this time, we were back to a real life. We were no longer Miraxis Agents, no longer soldiers for a cause not our own, no longer members of a facility whose existence seemed as hidden as the core of the world itself. Through trust, patience, and hardships, we had earned our freedom from that accursed world beneath the surface. With our past lives still disguised beneath fluctuating emotions and distant memories, there was still much more for us to discover here in this new world… the real world.

It was our rebirth… This was Earth, and though we wanted to live wandering, carefree lives until the end of time, it was clear that our destinies had already been set, our fate entwined with that of the planet. There on that rigid ferry, riding along a journey between lands unknown to us, we gracefully embraced our fortunes. We knew little of the path ahead that we would take, a perilous venture that would pass about a spectrum of events we could have never imagined…

We were not just chance victims of an unusual experiment…

We were not simply pioneers of a field understood by few…

We were not unfortunate souls driven by a lost cause…

We… we were the distant, last hope of a world without a future, a world that owed us as much as we owed it. Only time would tell, for time itself was a barrier we had already passed unknowingly. A plan much greater than us had laid itself out; our actions strummed the strings of fate and now was when the final timeline would play itself away to the ultimate ending. Yet… we had time to relax, time to take things easy, if only for a short while.

 

For as much as we felt that we needed the Earth…

 

It needed us more than we could ever imagine…