We came to a point where the brush cleared out enough to give us a good view of the surrounding area from on high. We saw a low sprawling complex that Martialla thought might be the Sierra Army Depot. An army depot seemed to me like the kind of place we would want to check out, but Martialla said that if there was anything there, it would have been looted a long time ago. She sure has a lot more opinions now than she did back in the real world. I went along with it, because why not? There may not have been anything there regardless since Martialla said that she thought that it was a facility where the EPA made sure the government decommissioned military explosives in an ecologically friendly way. Who knew that was a thing?
I pointed at a low sludgy-looking body of water in a vaguely ragged W shape “I don’t remember any big lakes around here, have we traveled farther than I think?”
Martialla shook her head “No we haven’t gone far, but things are bound to be different after a hundred years. Topography changes a lot more than you think.”
“It has NOT been a hundred years.”
She looked over at me “Why do you refuse to believe that?”
“Mostly because I don’t want it to be true. But if you want logic, there’s no way that facility could have survived a hundred years without anyone around doing maintenance. Things don’t last long, as you keep telling me.” I gestured. “Not even the landscape it seems.”
“Lasting a long time is kind of what it was designed for. Plus we don’t know what happened Ela, maybe people were living there until a few years ago. What do you reckon? Head for the disturbingly dirty-looking water? Or that?” She lifted her chin in the direct of a curl of smoke lower down the hills. “Or keep on the trail?”
“As long as the trail is going vaguely in the same direction as both of them, we might as well stay on it.”
The trail wound down in a switchback until the vegetation petered out and tipping plants gave way to slipping rocks. Scree I think they call that. At that point there was no real trail anymore. Which left us standing there with no real direction. We both looked around for a while, I think we were both waiting for the other one to say something. I was about to suggest turning towards the water (without having a good understanding of where it was) when I spotted movement crashing our way through the brush overland.
There had been a disturbing lack of animal life. There were a few bugs, but not enough. Not that I love bugs but you know what I mean. You walk through the wilderness, tons of bugs should be jumping on you. I didn’t see or hear a single bird either. It was unsettling. As long as there are plants, and there are tons of those, there should be an ecosystem right? Little critters eating the plants and bigger critters to eat them. It was a surprising relief just to see something else besides us that was alive (besides plants, I know plants are alive, I’m not an idiot).
I pointed it out to Martialla “Is that a horse?”
She put her hand up to her mask to peer “I’d say a deer maybe, except with no neck. I think it belongs to someone, whatever it is.”
“Why do you say that?”
“It has cloth on its hooves.”
I squinted through my dusty mask and saw that it did have some kind of coarse sacks on its legs “Oh yeah, why would you do that? To muffle the noise of hoofbeats? Is it a stealth horse like a stealth bomber?”
“Uh, I guess if you don’t have horseshoes maybe you’d do that?”
“How do you think they ever came up with horseshoes anyway? Who figured that it would be fine to put nails in a horse’s foot? And how did they get that first horse to go along with that program? How many people were kicked to death before they got that right?”
“They probably tried it with a dead horse first.”
“After beating it?”
Before she could answer (if she was going to) we saw the presumed rider of the beast clamber over a boulder into view. It moved slowly and spindly-ly like one of those rain forest frogs you see on the TV very slowly walking up and down trees instead of hopping around like a normal frog. I guess it was a person but it looked more like that Gollum monster from the Lord of the Rings. Only with clothes on. And let me tell you, if there was anyone who should have been wearing a shirt in those movies it was Gollum.
Martialla whispered to me “Now, we don’t want to spook him . . .”
I lifted my mask enough to cup my hands “Hey you!”
He was startled. To put it mildly. His reaction was like he had never heard a noise before. It was like what I imagine someone would do back in the old days of the electric chair when they threw the switch. After he was done freaking out he jumped on his deer-horse (no saddle) and it looked like he was going to gallop away but instead he came racing at us at what I would call a breakneck speed.
Martialla sighed “Good job not spooking him.”
“Hey, it worked didn’t it?”
She drew one of the guns “Remains to be seen.”
That “first horeshoes” conversation is something I’ve wondered about a lot.
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