We walked through the wasteland and back to the road where Dhruv Kabal dropped us off, but now, we had another ally.
As we waited on the side of the road, Jessica pulled out her phone.
Jessica explained, “I got that last taxi man’s number while you were sleeping in the car.”
I confirmed, “Dhruv Kabal?”
Jessica nodded and began calling, putting the call on speaker so we could hear. Cherry simply watched us as we conversed.
I expressed as the phone rang, “Alright, so you can trust me now, and we got Cherry. Where is Number Twenty-Nine?”
As her phone rang, Dhruv Kabal didn’t answer, and all that played was his ringtone.
In Dhruv’s hard Indian accent, the ringtone played, “This is Dhruv Kabal here! Leave a message at the tone, and I will not forget to call you back! Alavida!”
Jessica turned to me and answered my question hanging up the call.
“I received a tip from another bounty hunter that Number Twenty-Nine alongside his weird crew could be showing up somewhere deep through the wasteland within the next day looking for something specific.”
I replied, “What does he want? Another weapon?”
She countered, “Apparently money. Rumor says he has barrels of money buried throughout the wasteland and is going to pick it up.”
Cherry asked as if he didn’t hear correctly, “Barrels of money?”
Jessica pulled out a piece of notebook paper with various numbers written on it.
Jessica expressed, “Yup. Who knows why. All that matters is that the number will be somewhere around these coordinates within the next day, and the coordinates match to somewhere deep within the wasteland east of Topeka Village. Old man Sint hooked me up after I tried to turn in Coal to the Association.”
Cherry countered, “What? Tried to turn in Coal?”
I replied, “Yea don’t worry about it man. It’s complicated.”
I turned to Jessica and continued speaking.
“Why are we out here calling taxi drivers? No taxi driver will drive us straight through the wasteland. We should just travel there on foot. If we have a day, then we have the time to travel.”
Jessica put her piece of paper and phone away into her cloak and looked up at the sky. Cherry looked at me, and I just shrugged my shoulders.
Jessica answered, “Hmm. Yeah. I guess you’re right. We’re already going east, so It’s better if we just travel by foot.”
We all agreed on the decision. The wasteland we were about to walk through was separated by the giant road that we were behind, so we walked across and took our first step onto the cracked tan dryness of the wasteland. The sun was hotter than ever, but we were all well-conditioned after getting in shape at Cherry’s village. There was nothing in sight except randomly located boulders, cactuses, and miscellaneous lizards and insects roaming through the cracked floor. We kept walking and walking as the sun scorched us, taking breaks every hour to drink some water. After about three hours of walking, Cherry and I were exhausted but Jessica seemed to not be at all. We began to lag behind when Jessica turned around and randomly slapped me across the face.
I shouted in exhaustion and perplexity as I reached a hand to my reddened face, “What? What the hell? Why! Why did you do that witch!”
She scowled back, “After all that training, you still can’t keep up with a simple walk? This is why we lost last time!”
I replied back in utter anger and embarrassment, “So because I’m getting tired, you slapped me in the damn face? Why are you yelling at me? What about Cherry! He’s basically on the floor!”
I pointed my right hand’s index finger to Cherry, who had one knee on the ground and who was gasping for air through the heat. He reached his hands to his face and began cooling himself using his greed.
Jessica answered, “Well… eh… I don't know. I just saw you both lagging behind, and you were the first person near me so…”
Immediately, as I was about to scream at both Cherry and Jessica, Jessica’s eyes widened and she quickly remarked, “Get down! Both of you, now!”
I halted my anger, and Cherry and I, near Jessica who instantly dropped to the ground, both followed by dropping onto the floor swiftly. She shushed us and pointed across the plain wasteland. We scurried on the floor to look toward where she was pointing. There were three men, all wearing suits and ties doing different things in the distance. One of them was sitting down on what appeared to be a retractable chair near a tiny silver table having tea poured for him. The man pouring the tea in his cup did it slowly and precisely through a small teapot while another taller man was digging with a shovel. Around them, there were countless boulders and rocks toppled on top of each other, shading the men from the sun.
Cherry asked while still catching his breath, “Is that them? We already found them?”
I replied quickly, “Yeah. It’s gotta be them. They’re the only people I know that would wear full suits in the middle of a desert.”
Jessica instantly ripped off the sniper she had strapped on her back and began to position the weapon on the floor.
Cherry expressed, “You’re gonna snipe at them? What if you miss?”
Jessica replied, “That bastard is sitting down drinking tea again. He’s wide open. I’m gonna blow his head off.”
I remained quiet watching the tall man dig at the cracked dirt from afar as Jessica pulled out a scope from her cloak and bolted it onto her sniper. I turned toward Jessica alongside Cherry watching as she carefully adjusted the scope, zoomed in, and brought her eye to the sniper’s scope.
Once I looked back toward the three men that were in the distance, I noticed that the one who was pouring tea completely vanished. I squinted my eyes to make sure I wasn’t seeing things while the man sipping the tea, who was clearly the number, continued to sip at his tea while the taller man kept digging. Where did the one pouring the tea go?
I turned to Jessica and expressed rapidly, “Jessica, where did-”
She cut me off responding, “Shut up. I’m trying to focus.”
She took her eye off the scope and balanced the sniper one more time on the ground in front of her before looking back into the scope. Cherry turned from us and began looking at where the men were supposed to be once more. I joined in looking, and now the taller man was completely gone leaving the shovel he used laying on the ground beside the chair the number sat on. The only man that was left in view was the number. I knew something was wrong.
All I heard was a calmly spoken sentence behind us.
“You people again, but now there’s another boy too?”
I jumped up and turned around frantically alongside Cherry. Jessica retreated rightwards from where we backed away, abandoning her sniper and skidding on the hardened dirt. The old man and the taller man, named Caviar and Linguini from what I remember, simply stood hauntingly in front of us. Jessica rapidly drew out a pistol from the right side of her torso, and while backing away, I reached my right hand into the air in front of me and, using my greed, gripped the air making a machete appear. I placed my other hand on my waist, slipping out a dagger and preparing to launch it. Jessica, without warning, shot a full clip of bullets from her pistol which jolted her pistol toward her face from the recoil. Linguini swiftly and inhumanely caught all the bullets mid-air with his right hand, dropping what appeared to be six onto the ground one by one as he opened his closed fist. Jessica kept shooting, but bullets eventually stopped coming out. Caviar unfastened his tie and got into his basic boxing stance that he used back at the bank. Before I could rush or launch the dagger from my waist, a hand gently touched my left shoulder, startling and shocking me. I swung my machete around my body but swung at what appeared to be nothing as no one was there. Once I turned back around to face the men, all three of the men were now standing together including Number Twenty-Nine. The number, in complete disgust, looked at his hand and scowled as if he was remembering something awful.
“Oh god! Carrot stew? Oh god, these memories are awful! Damn kid, I’d say you had what was coming to you if you were eating that garbage!”
He continued to look at his hand as Linguini backed away and as Caviar slowly stepped towards us with his raised fists.
The number screamed, “I mean c’mon! These memories are disgusting! My God! How poor were you?”
I didn’t know what was going on. What was the number talking about? What just happened? Memories? What’s he talking about?
Jessica hurled her empty pistol spinning the gun mid-air at Caviar who swiped it away sending it crackling onto the ground beside the number’s feet. As Caviar rushed her holding his boxing stance, she instantly whipped out another pistol from the other side of her hip. As she was pointing and before she could shoot, Cherry jumped in front of her awaiting Caviar’s assault. Cherry wrinkled his nose and widened his eyes as he threw his arms in front of his body. His arms, palms, and fingers all began to trickle with what appeared to be blue frost alongside his chest and silver eyes. As Caviar noticed Cherry’s body change, he halted his rushing attack and backed away. Jessica swerved her arm to the right side of Cherry’s body and began to shoot countless bullets only to have her bullets caught by Linguini once more, but this time by both of his hands. Linguini opened his hands’ palms rapidly and tons of bullets flooded out of his hands onto the brown and cracked floor. Linguini simply grinned as the bullets oozed onto the hardened dirt.
After about five seconds of silence and stillness, and after all of the bullets exited Linguini’s open palms, I ended up directly face to face and matched up with the number while Jessica and Cherry were matched up with Linguini and Caviar.
Cherry turned to me, and I shouted as I pointed my machete towards the number.
“Cherry! This one’s the number!”
Cherry looked back at the two men in front of him as he lowered his icy arms.
He shouted at Caviar, “Who are you people! Are you numbers too?”
Before they could answer, Jessica added another question, shouting as she reloaded her now empty pistol in an instant and began pointing again.
“How the hell are you catching my bullets old man?”
The number alongside the other two men stood silent as everyone awaited another attack. We continued to point our weapons in suspense as the number and his crew held their stances. I reached into my cloak, snatched a hatchet, and tossed it to Cherry.
Cherry caught the hatchet by its handle aggressively and entered a wrestling stance as his body and the hatchet began to surge in frosted particles and coldness.
As we all continued to stand still, the number simply had the fingers of his right hand on his forehead as if he was deeply brainstorming. The number then began lowering his hand slowly and spoke confidently, remaining completely calm in company with his other two allies.
“I’ll make it short. I gain memories, and yes, I am a number although I have no interest in the numbers themselves.”
My eyes were linked to the number’s eyes.
“Homeless man, I see from your memories that you have some sort of grudge against the numbers, but I can tell you right now that we have no real link to them. All numbers work alone.”
I replied wildly, “You numbers are all the same! You say you gain memories? Then you know what you people did to me! I’LL KILL YOU WHERE YOU STAND!”
Cherry sniveled in anger as he gripped his hatchet more forcefully. The number turned to Cherry and noticed his anger as he sighed, reaching both of his hands in front of his body and moving them with his words.
“Oh god, you have number issues too? I already told you guys! I don’t care about the numbers! This is a waste of time! I only care about money! You see? There’s no need to fight!”
He turned to his allies while waving his left hand.
“Go ahead Linguini. Tell them how you caught their bullets. You too Caviar. Tell them your greed. Introduce yourselves.”
Caviar and Linguini looked at each other with unease and confusion as Caviar obeyed.
“Well… uh… My name is Caviar Bottoms. I gain stamina, and this is Linguini Parmigiano. He gains hand speed. That’s… that’s our greed.”
The number nodded and turned his head toward us with his hands still open in front of him.
“You see! We’re all friends here, homeless man! I’m just here for my money!”
Immediately, Jessica reached into her cloak pulling out a paper, showing it to the number.
She expressed, “We’re here for the bounty on you… idiot...”
The number put his arms down and brought his right hand to his chin.
“Oh... I don’t remember those memories after touching the homeless man. What’s his name again…”
The number submerged himself in his own thoughts as he pressed his fingers into the sky.
“Yea, yea I remember. It’s Coal Jenie. That’s his name. Weird. I don’t remember him accepting a bounty on me after gaining his memories…”
The number dropped his hand from his chin and shrugged.
“Well… then… I guess you do need to die?”
Caviar and Linguini re-entered their stances, and Jessica raised her gun again as Caviar took a step forward when… the unthinkable happened.
They showed up.
Five of them.
The same way they always do.
Like a bolt of lightning with a ridiculously loud crackle, four men and one woman appeared out of nothing on the left of Number Twenty-Nine, Caviar, and Linguini and to the right of Cherry, Jessica, and I. All five of the people appeared together side by side and shoulder to shoulder. They all looked completely different and unique from one another with their own weapons and clothing styles.
Cherry, Jessica, Linguini, Caviar, Number Twenty-Nine, and I all turned with widened eyes towards the newly arriving figures. For almost five full seconds, we were all speechless and silent until Number Twenty-Nine ended the silence with his reaction.
“What the? Who the hell are you people?”