As dust swirled around him, Amo pulled his rickety wagon over the rugged landscape of The Past. The only sound for miles was the squeak of his wagon, which he knew better than to take outside without oiling first. But Amo was too aggravated that day to care. He didn’t think about the drones that were out hunting or about other humans who could be lurking out in the dust. He was too bothered by the unfairness of his plight: how a man who did everything right could end up in a place so wrong.
“Don’t be a fool, Amo.”
Sometimes he could hear her voice—a woman he might have loved once. Tisha. Was that her name? It had to have been Tisha.
She had been something special. She saw everything coming before anyone else did. Tried to warn them, and him. “Don’t be a fool, Amo,” she’d say. “Rules weren’t meant to help nobody.”
“I did everything I was supposed to,” Amo grumbled as he pressed forward, into the sandy blizzard of The Past.
“Rules are for poor people,” Tisha taunted. “Rules are meant to keep them that way.”
He could hear her in the wind, flitting about. Floating away.
“Not fair I don’t get to go,” Amo grumbled.
“You’re a fool, Amo.”
“Shut up!” His voice tore into the wind and echoed through the dust. The echoes reminded him that Tisha was long gone. He was alone.
Or so he thought.
“You lost, buddy?”
As the echo of Amo’s outburst faded, a man emerged from the dust. He wasn’t wearing a mask and goggles like Amo. He wore nice clothes and sported a full head of hair, unlike Amo’s, which had bald spots from picking. The man stepped closer, looking around as he did. There was something strange about the way he moved. Something calculated.
“You live around here?” he asked.
It was a question nobody like Amo wanted to hear from the likes of the man standing before him—a question that typically preceded a round of bullets.
It was at this moment that Amo remembered one of his brother’s rules: Don’t go out without me.
Max looked out for Amo, and if Amo concentrated hard enough, he could remember a time when that was the other way around. But Amo didn’t like to concentrate too hard, so he just found it easier to do whatever Max said.
Max said not to go to the city, so Amo didn’t go.
But just because Amo did most things Max told him to didn’t mean that he had to be happy about it. He’d wanted very badly to go to the city. So, that morning he had defied his brother by committing a lesser offense—going scavenging alone.
Now, he gripped the handle of his wagon. A moment of clarity revealed the possibility to him that Max might find him dead beside it.
That would destroy him.
But the strange man just laughed. “Relax, guy,” he said. “I don’t bite.” He eyed Amo’s wagon and flashed a calculating smile. “You’ll find some really cool stuff back that way,” he advised, pointing behind himself with his thumb. “Better hurry.”
With that, he disappeared back into the fog. Amo swallowed a lump in his throat and wondered what the hell a man like that was doing out in The Past.
No matter. Amo was alive.
He thought about going back to the warehouse, where he and Max were crashing that week, but the promise of whatever treasures the man had seen was too tempting. Maybe he’d find some nice trinkets from the before times. He’d keep some for himself and give the rest to Max to trade in the Market, and then maybe Max wouldn’t be too angry with him.
The Market. That was another place Max didn’t want Amo to go.
Amo had to show his brother he wasn’t completely useless.
He pressed on, scanning the ground for glittering bits of metal, or anything else interesting.
A few hours went by before he realized that he’d gone too far. He hadn’t even noticed the way the dust began to settle, the way the daylight went from brown to almost white. He didn’t realize until, by chance, he looked up and saw it. The city.
Amo took a step back. That wasn’t possible, he thought. He hadn’t even passed the junkyard. How had he reached the city?
But then he realized it must be a different part, that the city must have curved around The Past, somehow. That meant it had grown. It didn’t make sense for a city to grow with fewer people to inhabit it. Amo’s heart yearned. He wanted to know what they’d done to it.
But it was getting late. Amo reluctantly turned around and went back to the warehouse.
Max was not there.
Amo knew his brother would be steaming mad when he got home. He rifled through the contents of his wagon and pulled out a book—the one Max read every night. He set it on Max’s cot, hoping it would appease him when he returned. He didn’t want Max to be upset with him.
He curled up on his own cot and squeezed his eyes shut. His dreams that night were peaceful. As bad as things were, he always slept alright.
The next morning, Max still hadn’t returned. The book sat on his cot, untouched. After much hesitation, Amo left it and took his wagon out to scavenge again.
It was a pretense.
Where he really went was back to the border of the city, quickening his step to save time. He knew it would be more visible in the morning light, when the dust was not as heavy. He wouldn’t get too close, he promised himself, and he almost honored that agreement. But when he arrived back at the city’s border, he saw the most curious thing.
At the city’s edge, stood a woman. He could tell she was Enlightened by the smoothness of her reddish brown skin, untouched by dust, and the shine of her dark hair. Behind her a car shrank back into the city.
Their eyes locked. Amo stumbled backward, ready to run. But she called out to him. “Wait,” she pleaded.
He did. What little sense he had left betrayed him. He waited for her to approach.
She was beautiful, like Tisha, with a bush full of hair and strong, dark features.
“What’s you name?” she asked.
He cleared his throat. “Amo, Ma’am,” he said.
She hesitated. “I’m Adema,” she introduced herself. She smiled. Amo got so lost in that smile, he didn’t hear the buzz of the drone speeding toward them. Adema’s eyes grew wide. A gasp parted her lips. When Amo finally caught on, he turned to run, but the drone dropped into his path.
“Halt,” it blared. “You’re both under arrest!” Why it didn’t shoot him dead right then, unregistered as he was, Amo couldn’t fathom.
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