“Finally,” Serrin said to himself quietly as the massive walls of the city shimmered out of the haze in front of him. “And no thanks to those others,” he added bitterly.
The barred gate in the wall was raised slightly, which Serrin considered an invitation, and was confirmed when no one stopped him from ungracefully sliding under it.
The fact that there seemed to be no one else anywhere only made Serrin feel better about the journey.
The continent wasn’t the largest on the planet, but it did have the vast majority of the population; some 300 million; almost 3/4s of the total. For generations they had all lived on the coast, being forced further and further out due to changing climate conditions.
Of course, the older generation – although still too young to have lived in the interior themselves – spun stories of a race of people living happily in the desert who had forced the others out. Whether or not this was true was irrelevant, as the desert had been uninhabitable for so long, no one even cared if someone was living there – they couldn’t, end of discussion.
Serrin had grown up on the coast in one of the mega cities. He had learned in school about the desert and how it was uninhabitable. He remembered wondering why they couldn’t just fix it. In his questioning about this, everyone just told him it couldn’t be done which only made him more sure that it could be done.
As he grew to adulthood this stubbornness, or refusal to accept reality, as some people called it, turned into an obsession. He wrote many books on his plans to traverse the desert and how the desert wasn’t as uninhabitable as everyone was assuming. This was enough to fund his obsession and also gain him enough infamy to tour through the cities and find anyone else who agreed with him or who was willing to support him.
It was one such tour, supporting his latest book, where someone approached him at the hotel bar where he was having a few drinks after a day of speaking engagements.
“Serrin,” a male voice said tonelessly beside him.
“Your book has some interesting ideas.”
“I think so, yeah,” Serrin replied, suspicious of the stranger who was sitting at the bar not drinking.
“Do you really think there is a civilisation living in the desert?”
“I think it’s possible and the constant denial or refusal to entertain the idea is dangerous.”
“And if you had the funding to travel into the desert?”
“I would leave tomorrow. I don’t know what I’d find, but I would put money on something unexpected.”
“I might be able to help you with that,” the stranger said handing Serrin a small business card which was printed with ‘kle consultants’ and a phone number. Serrin looked up at where the man had been sitting, but he had already gone.
After a long sequence of back and forth phone calls which, according to the various people on the other end, were a vetting system, Serrin finally got an address to meet with the reclusive leader of the organisation, the person known as KLE.
Serrin was led through a large mansion to the back yard where a large oak tree covered a significant portion of the yard in shadow. An old man sat under the tree in a reclining chair. His eyes were closed and a small grin curled on his lips. “Hello, Serrin,” he said the instant he was in earshot.
“Hi,” Serrin said slightly uneasily. “You’re KLE?”
“And you can help me traverse the desert?”
“What are your terms?”
“Hmm, I hadn’t really considered any terms. What do you think is appropriate?”
“You’re willing to help me for no return on your end?”
“Oh, I never said that. But I’m sure we can come to some arrangement upon your return.”
“I don’t see how that makes sense.”
“Are you uninterested? I’m led to believe this is something of a life goal for you.”
“No no, I’m just not used to being offered something like this. These ideas of mine aren’t exactly mainstream.”
“The opinions of others are of no concern to me. I’m just interested in seeing some ideas followed through to their conclusion. In this instance, the exploration of the desert.”
“And I would owe you something later?”
“That’s a crude way of putting it, but essentially accurate.”
“Well, if you’re serious, I have a list of things I require.”
“My assistant will introduce you to people who can assist you in whatever you need. Plus the team who will accompany you across the desert.”
“Call it part of my terms. There are half a dozen people all trained and waiting to head out. You will be the leader of the expedition. This is non-negotiable.”
“I guess I have no choice then,” Serrin said, already planning around this.
It took another six or so months before the expedition was ready to leave. Each step of the way, Serrin made sure that the public knew about it. He would do interviews and publicise everything they did to prepare for the journey, including in-depth profiles on all of KLE’s people. He hadn’t seen KLE since that afternoon under the tree, and he was trying to push his buttons; to see what would get him to say something about the expedition or Serrin’s behaviour, but despite everything Serrin did, KLE stayed quiet.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, they were ready. The packs were packed and the team was assembled at the edge of the desert. They all said their farewells and headed out into the sand.
KLE’s people, of course, were there to ensure that when Serrin returned, he was honest about what happened out there. Serrin had added a few of his own people to the mix though, and he hoped that it was enough to make sure that his ideals weren’t compromised when they found whatever there was to find out there.