Outback

[Estimated reading time: 3 minutes]

[This is a work in progress.]

The jeep bounces over uneven ground, kicking up a cloud of dust behind it. The driver's hands dance on the steering wheel, never gripping it too tightly, just nudges here and there, the fingers push and pull at the dusty leather that's been smoothed over by the decades of continuous use. The driver reaches into the side console and pulls out a tape with a faded label ("Safari Song") and jams it into the car's stereo. Old world music comes out of after-after-market speakers and sounds exactly like a landslide of a thousand tons of broken glass.

Today there are three passengers. Seated next to the driver is a nervous-looking bespectacled Anglo with a wild mustache, and sharing the backseat are two Asian ladies decked out to the nines in unblemished designer gear that must have first encountered dust and sweat just this morning. They arrived at the Outpost on the cross-continental train a few hours ago and paid handsomely for the ride. The driver has stopped glancing in the mirror, he's already seen all he needs to see, knows everything and nothing about his fare.

"...then the locals stormed the palace and carried out the gov'nuh on a rail. Honest injun, I was there, never seen anything like it. No one wanted another repeat of the Winter Solstice Incident, so we just elected a new gov'nuh and pretended we'd never heard of Old Gaspar. Now, his son..."

The driver is talking to himself more than anyone. The passenger next to him is tuning him out, just staring at the wild expanse of emptiness around the jeep. The ones in the back are asleep.

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Hero

[Estimated reading time: 17 minutes]

A new day is a new chance to become our better selves, my mother used to say. She still says it, but she used to say it, too.

I think of the strange but loving woman and her weird obsession with us bettering ourselves, and hope that today makes me a better self. I say a prayer to Kaleel, and to Tomoy for good measure, and push my boat off from the shore.

The first few strides are across soft sand, and I sink a little as I push the boat away from the shore, then I hop into the boat and row hard and fast, and just manage to avoid an underwater rock I'd not noticed until now. I curse the unfamiliar beach and long to be back home, to set off from the shore that I know so well.

Better self, I repeat to myself, and set off toward the rising sun. The cool blue light illuminates the shore and glances off the ocean waves, flits across the ripples, and ignites my soul. I hold steady and row straight out toward the sun, watching as the shore recedes and clear features disappear into a strange blend. I concentrate on rowing for a while and only look up again after a few miles. The island, from this distance, looks like a moss-covered rock, the jungle's thick canopy of greens and yellows blend together and it's hard to make out individual trees.

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