Jorreck saw smoke on the horizon and his heart leaped. He finally had made it to the Eastern Reaches. The thought of seeing another person filled him with relief and dread. His hope of finally ending his loneliness had been the only thing to keep him going in the last few weeks. However, he wondered if after months in the wilderness, whether he could even relate to another person.
The last time he had seen another was by the reflecting pools at the beginning of his wandering. She had been on Rambla for six weeks and fittingly, he was the first person she saw on her return. She shared some tips and tales of how she got by, but he did not let on that he planned to make, not just a normal Rambla in the wilderness, but a trek straight across the great continent from the Western to the Eastern Reaches. It was a journey of about an hour if flying by car, but interminable on foot. To his knowledge no one had done so. He had told no one he was going to try.
He equipped himself with only a spice stick. This would be sufficient to construct shelters, hunt for food, and in extreme cases turn organic material into constituent proteins necessary for survival. The only thing it couldn’t do really, was create water. For that he wore what was archaically called spacesuit. It had been designed for long trips when humans still plied their way through the stars. The suit covered the entire body and reclaimed all water, minerals, and other excrements, filtered them and returned them to the body.
The woman at the reflecting pools had preferred to call hers by the more poetic name of ‘stilsuit’ referring to the ancient tales of the poet Herbert who presaged such a device in his epics. Spacesuits were very popular amongst those heading out on a Rambla. Most ventured out alone for only a month or two. If one started out properly hydrated, a spacesuit could allow one to go for eight weeks without having to add water. The main water loss came from the thinner membrane across the eyes, and any time the mouth flap was opened to eat.
Since Jorreck planned to be gone for some time past eight weeks, he had also carried a repair kit and spare filters for the suit. This had made the woman at the reflecting pools think him paranoid, and laugh at him.
“Why not carry an emergency beacon instead?” she asked. He had agreed it was much more sensible and left it there himself.
Over the course of is trek Jorreck had to fix his spacesuit seven times and replace the filters five. He thought about the woman every time. He also recharged the water pockets directly from any natural water source he found. However since he passed through great deserts, he found that the suit could continue for as many as 12 weeks without a recharge if sensibly maintained and with some clever eating habits that minimized water loss.
At first the trek had provided him with exactly what he sought. He confronted a world of unknowns. Unknown dangers, strange animals, uncharted terrain all challenged him. But after several months even that became mundane. He first noticed his apathy against novelty when he was attacked by a tiger. Tigers were very rare, and mostly kept in museums. However he had reacted by simply shocking it with the spice stick as he did any other threatening animal. He wondered if the spice stick itself cheated him of his goal.
Still, a great surprise still awaited him and he relished it. He had no maps and had only kept his eastern course by reckoning against the sun. He had no idea what settlement he would come upon when got to the smoke. In a world where people had protected themselves against every danger, he relished this uncertainty. And that is why he had done this. To finally experience real uncertainty again. Uncertainty not only of location but of survival. He had to work to survive. And he didn’t know what was coming next.
The trail he was on opened into a clearing and his heart sunk. A camera.
A crowd let out a great cheer. Several of his good friends rushed towards him. And a camera recorded him.
“Jorreck! You made it. You’ve become quite a celebrity!”
Welcome banners lit up the air and soft celebratory music wafted in.
Journalists respectfully allowed his friends to welcome him while noting his every expression.
“A look of bewilderment crossed the mad trekkers face….”
“Overwhelmed by the joy and relief…”
After things settled down and Jorreck had half-heartedly granted some interviews he sat and enjoyed the luxury of disconnecting the head unit from his spacesuit and ate a hot meal.
One of his oldest friends, Armiel, asked him what he would do now.
“I think I’m going back the way I came.”
They laughed at his joke, but the laughter died off suddenly as they realized he was serious.
“What do you mean? After what you put us through? Tracking yo for months, watching you attacked by all manner of animals, including a tiger! You can’t put us through that again. It’s not fair. It won’t be taken well. You’ll be seen as selfish. Spotlight-hogging!”
“You’re right,” Jorreck said to their great relief. But he got up immediately and went off to confer with an engineer friend who had stayed quiet through the previous conversation.
“I think you understand me Halion,” said Jorreck.
“I do. I’ll have it to you by morning.”
The next day a great press brunch was set, after which Jorreck would make the one hour car flight back to a welcome celebration in the Western Reaches. Jorreck did not arrive for the brunch, and he could not be found anywhere.
Eventually Halion arrived at the brunch and after considerable trouble getting anyone to listen to him, delivered a recorded message from Jorreck.
The message was recorded life-size and so was positioned on the podium were he ad been expected to speak for real earlier. All broadcasts focused in on the recorded Jorreck.
“Thank you for your hospitality. I do mean that. But I must go. I left on this trek privately in order to be able to live my life on my own terms. I did that, until the end. When arrived I had hoped to surprise some small settlement and make my way back into society and build on what I had learned. What I found is that I had not accomplished anything. My spice stick had protected me from real experience on my trek, and the inability to hide from anyone on this planet, protected me from anonymity.
So I’m headed back into the wilderness without a spice stick, but with a life-signs cloak, a knife and a few more crude instruments. Please do not look for me unless you do it on foot and in person. I do not wish to be found again by technology. I aim to head back to the Western Reaches, but I will not go directly. This time I plan to stop along the way and enjoy the varied treasures of the wilderness. At different points, I will stop for weeks or months. Do not expect me back. I may die. But if I do, know that I died finding meaning in my life. Good-bye.”
And so began the legend of Jorreck the Wanderer. It is said that he still journeys, and many on Rambla claim to have encountered him, learned from his experiences, and benefited from his aid. All who claim so agree that his one message back to the rest of what’s left of the world is that he still aims to deliver one final surprise. But he will not let on what that may be.