by Gareth D Jones
It wasn't his fault, and nobody blamed him for what happened, but Englebert felt the loss of his friend keenly and guilt weighed heavily on him. He tried to get back to some kind of normality, working with the other analysts, but everything felt hollow, meaningless. The nanomachines were still confusing his brain. He told Bakkar he was going away for a while, that they shouldn't try to contact him. Then he went out into the desert, alone, with no supplies or equipment. That's the last he was seen.
Wait. That's the end. Go back to the beginning.
"I don't understand," Englebert said. "Why can't they just leave me alone?" He chewed rhythmically, thoughtfully, as he looked around the yard, as though the answer were somewhere in his mouthful of food.
"They won't leave you alone," Yusef said, "because you're too interesting." He was short and stocky, his jet-black hair matched by a generous moustache.
"I suppose that's a compliment."
Englebert strolled around the barren yard, Yusef at his side. There were wire fences on two sides, low white buildings on the other two. It was hot and dusty, and beyond the fence the bleak landscape stretched to the distant heat haze.
"We could leave," Yusef said, "if you're really that fed up."
"Maybe." The camel looked at the fences and the sagging gate. They weren't designed to be especially secure. The yard belonged to a research center, not a prison.
"Or tell them you need a break."
"And do what?" Englebert spat noisily on the parched, packed earth. "I'll be followed by journalists, or cranks, or rogue scientists, or government agents who want me for their own evil ends."
"That's a bit melodramatic." Yusef shook his head slowly and smiled. "You really think you're that important?"
"Of course I am. I'm unique."