She clambered up the side of the ship onto the deck. The ships were the fastest way across the desert, propelled with a sail, by the powerful wind that blew constantly throughout the desert. It skimmed along the surface of the shifting desert by thin rails that slid effortlessly across the sand. Apart from that they looked very much like a ship on the water. This one was not particularly large, but big enough for two people to live comfortably for a few days, which is how long it would take to get Home. Under the deck she was delighted to see a bath, filled with water straight from the river. She undressed, and got in. Lukewarm, only so because of the heat of the desert, but she was grateful for the water nonetheless.
They took shifts piloting the ship as it made its way westward, towards Home. Every time when Jun was leaving to sleep Jun would ask ‘How are you feeling?’ and Naya would simply reply ‘Fine.’ It was such a time — late at night — when Jun asked, ‘You seem distracted. What’s up? Really this time, don’t just say you’re fine.’
‘I guess I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been through. What does it all mean? Why did I have to come all the way out here to write some code into a computer, just to send it all the way back? And no washing, no contact? Who made these rules?’
‘It’s tradition. You know that.’
‘Well maybe it’s time the traditions changed. Every year someone disappears for… what? A month? And they come back victorious through the ordeal. For what reason? Nothing changes.’ She paused. ‘Don’t tell anyone I said that.’
‘Back Home that talk would get you killed. Out here no one can hear but me and the sand. And neither of us are telling.’ There was a silence, filled only with the hissing of the sand, as if in agreement.
‘Thank you. Though, I still want things to change. I may not be the right person to cause such an effect, but I have to at least try. No one should have to go through that.’ Her eyes glinted off the pale moonlight. She was crying.
Jun embraced her from behind. ‘Go downstairs. I’ll take your shift. You have a rebellion to plan.’
The sun rose on the third day of travel. Some time today, the Home would be appearing on the horizon. Jun thought about the conversation they had had last night. He thought about how many people he had ferried across the desert, to that small shack in the middle of nowhere. None were quite like Naya: everyone else was relieved for it to be over for them — not her. That wasn’t enough. He thought about that shack. It was a relic from an ancient time, before the sands. There used to be a yellow and black circle on it, until he and the others had rubbed it off, when they started the whole tradition of the Home. It was the perfect place: a secluded spot with nothing to think about but the code and the sand. The oppressive red waste that loomed outside the tiny room. A person in there would do anything to escape, and that was the idea, they would want to escape. He thought about the lines of code that were stored in a small black box under the deck at his feet. The project was almost complete. Maybe Naya had actually written the last lines.