Chapter One: The Kids in the Dark

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Selene was the only woman Kai ever truly loved. She wasn't much to look at, he admitted. She was a plain Jane with a bony body. Her dark exterior stood out strikingly when put against the backdrop of the sun. She was capricious, never quite ever doing what was asked of her, but she always pulled through in the end. She tired easily, always forcing Kai to take extra time out of his day to accommodate her, but having her around made his life unmistakably better.

So what if Selene was an old Jeep Wrangler? As far as Kai was concerned, she was a tough lady with a hell of a personality and his love for her was as real as it was for any person.

Ah, well, like, not in a weird way, though.

Regardless, one thing was for sure: Selene was a hungry bitch.

In her defense, Kai was a pretty avid driver. You had to be to make it through this never ending desert. Sure there were some nomads who tried to tackle the red sand expanse on just their two feet, but it wound up taking days just to make it from one outpost to the next. Vehicles were simultaneously a luxury and a necessity nowadays. Not that that was any different from the past, Kai supposed. It just felt more apparent now.

Even Selene, a semi-unreliable manual SUV made of little more than four tires and a steering wheel, was considered a hot commodity. So what if she didn't have doors or a roof? Those were considered tertiary anyway. The wind through your hair is about as good as an air conditioner. It's not like it rained much in the desert, anyway.

But the sheer amount of traveling through the near endless landscape of the red sands meant a near endless hunger for gasoline, which was—surprise, in this hellish landscape—difficult or ridiculously expensive to come across. So you had to get, uh, creative with your refueling endeavors.

So that's where Kai found himself. At the lip of an old abandoned hardware store in the middle of who-knows-where.

That was unfair, actually. Here was one of the few places that was actually somewhere. It was a tiny little town lying toward the southern end of one of those boxy territories toward the western end of the continental map. But in the context of the endless nothing, this tiny town might as well have been a metropolis. Like many of the towns Kai had come across in his travels, a majority of it had been abandoned. Most of the shops and buildings were dilapidated, especially ones belonging to large nationwide chains.

This hardware store was huge. The sign on the front had faded away, a couple letters either hanging or disappeared completely. From afar it read HO E D O l. He kind of laughed to himself about that one.

Kai pulled the insatiable Jeep into the parking lot. The lot itself felt as behemothian as the storefront. He tried to imagine the days when this place was filled to the brim with vehicles of all shapes and sizes. His imagination had trouble filling in the gaps. Today, in the present, there were two other cars parked in the lot. One looked like it had already been raided for parts. The other was a pickup truck that looked to be in good enough condition.

Perhaps someone on their own journey, he mused.

He pulled into a spot in the middle of the lot, not bothering to strain his eyes to properly read the faded white lines hidden under a thin layer of sand.

He made sure to lock up as he exited Selene, even though he very well knew that with her lack of doors-slash-roof it would be entirely easy for someone to pop by, hot wire her, and take her far, far away from here. He tried to stay optimistic. He wasn't going to be in there for long anyway.

The front of the Hoe Doi was certainly unwelcoming. It had been boarded up ages ago, worn out strips of plywood covering sixteen feet worth of broken glass entrances. From the looks of it, someone must have taken a sledge hammer to a small section, creating a makeshift entrance crowned with shards of glass and frayed wood fibers.

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