Sam hated the desert; he hated the heat, and the sand, and the flies that crawled over his face. He hated the djann, because they were ugly, vile creatures. As he rode he glanced up at the blaring sun – it was close to two o’clock now. The wind had picked up dramatically since he and Ashley had left the camp. She rode closely behind him, and under the sun Star’s flowing white mane reflected light with an intense glow. A horse like that did not belong out here – the poor thing seemed so out of place.
Sam had adjusted his turban to keep the sand and flies at bay from his face. He had shown Ashley how to do the same with a piece of cloth from her saddlebag. Other than that small and brief lesson, they didn’t talk much until they had neared the city. But Sam was curious about her. She seemed strong, not in a physical way but in the way that she looked at things like they needed to be understood. Like Star, this was no place for a woman like her, and yet she was here. She was just a scientist. Right? What did she do exactly? He decided to ask. “So you’re a scientist,” he said, breaking the silence.
She moved next to him and shot him a look, raising an eyebrow. Here we go. He sneered. She was also arrogant. “I’m not just a scientist,” she said sharply. “I am a specialist in Benezian energy and technology.”
“So what is it, then, that you actually do?”
She rolled her lips and thought for a moment. “Well I do a lot of things. I study the crystals mostly, but I’ve also contributed to designing lots of machines and other handy inventions – your guns among them.”
Sam was surprised. “You helped design our weapons?” he asked, suddenly much more intrigued. He was at least right about her being smart.
“Oh yes indeed,” she continued, “I was a part of a team that developed the formula for a new type of gun powder – the researchers told me it proved very effective in the field.”
Sam remembered being told about that a few weeks ago when he had first arrived at the camp. The change in firepower was dramatic. As Ashley went on about her various experiments in the Morroak Desert, Sam sat back in his saddle and watched her. Huh, he thought, maybe she was all right.
It didn’t really matter, though, and before long the day neared its end, the city of Torren came upon them. They would soon part ways. Sam looked back to see how far they had come, and the camp was only a speck of dust in the darkening desert – tinted with an eerie purple as the great sun was diminished.
Sam led Ashley to the main road that entered the city and the giant sandstone wall grew larger as they came closer. They passed through a massive arch under the wall that served as a gateway for people entering and leaving the city. A solid band of guards bearing the Taellian crest stopped them and asked for their business. Sam had unveiled his turban, and now he simply opened his jacket to reveal his uniform hidden beneath. The guards let him and Ashley through without question.
As they entered the city Ashley smiled. “Is everything so easy for you?”
Sam nodded his head. “My job has its perks.”
They dismounted their horses and left them with the guards while Ashley waited for her contact to arrive.
Ashley was the first to be greeted, and in the busy entryway of Torren she was welcomed by what appeared to be a familiar face, but again Sam didn’t recognise him. Ashley stepped forward as the elderly man approached. He wore a light coat, his hair was grey and thinning, he hobbled a little, and he wore a pair of thick round eyeglasses. This man was indeed a scientist.
“Doctor Malcom.” Ashley greeted the man with a handshake, to which he accepted.
“Little Ashley,” said Malcom, “it’s good to see you again.”
Sam assumed that the two had known each other for a long time by the way he called her little Ashley.
“How has your expedition in the desert been?” Malcom continued. “Was it everything you had hoped for?”
“Not quite.” Ashley gestured towards Sam. “This is Samuel Ford – he’s the man who’s going to help us find Garn.”
Malcom offered his hand, to which Sam accepted. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I hope you’re as good as they say you are.” He laughed coarsely and Sam smiled lightly. “Well, the day grows dark and there is work to be done.” He looked to Ash, and then back to Sam. “Your people are waiting for you, in the warehouse just down the street.”
As the citizens cleared away, Sam tried to spot the warehouse that was down the emptying street, but in the twilight it became hard to see. The street had been cleared of people rather suddenly, and there only remained the old woman who lit the street lamps every night.
Malcom began to make his way home, or to his office, but Ashley remained a little longer. “Well Sam,” she started softly, “this is where we part ways.”
Strangely, Sam didn’t want to see her go. “Yes, it is.” His words were simple, “I’ll see you around Ashley.”
She smiled one last time and then turned away. Sam walked alone in the direction of the warehouse. The moon was bright and full that night.ns 184.108.40.206da2