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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Travel · #2285613
A mysterious man goes on a journey
The light of the sunrise shone into the traveler's dark brown eyes as he awoke. Warm in his thick sleeping bag, he stretched his limbs. The brown grass of the Mongolian steppe stretched to the distant horizon. He noticed a thin layer of white frost and could see his breath in the morning air. Rising rapidly, he donned a thick fur coat and hat and put on his horsehide boots. His large, six-foot-tall frame bulged with muscles, and with the coat, his shoulders seemed enormous. He rolled up his sleeping bag tightly and folded the groundsheet, placing both in his rucksack. He started walking south, slightly to the right of the sunrise. His keen eyes searched the land around for prey, the food had run out the day before. The traveler did not fear the looming threat of winter. For two thousand years, he'd walked the empty lands of Asia, and today was just another day.

         Gifted two thousand years before with immortality and special powers. The traveler was now a witness to millennia of suffering throughout the world but also to those rare moments of light and glory that history all too often hides from the undiscerning. Through the centuries, he had walked the empty lands at God's command, guided by visions to the homes of kings and peasants, scholars, soldiers, merchants, slaves, and free. Having accomplished his missions, he would slip away again into the anonymity of the vast empty spaces of this world. In recent years, the world had grown more crowded, and the task of staying unknown was all the harder. However, in the Mongolian steppe, on this bright new day, that was hardly noticeable.

         The blue sky and dry, withered lands were silent except for the wind. The birds had long since fled this desolate place as winter approached. Many creatures were already in hibernation for the long, cold winter. He knew the first snow would come soon. His sharp eyes spied a Tarbagan marmot foraging in the grass. He studied it and then, using his powers, broke its neck from a distance. It flopped lifelessly to the ground. He moved to where the animal lay in the brown grass. Taking a bag of dried animal dung that hung from the back of his rucksack, which he had collected as he walked, he prepared the fire. He created a circle of stones and then, using the dry brown grass as a starter fuel, lit a match. Shielding the fire from the wind, he fanned it to life, and the dung was soon burning. When the fire was hot enough, he laid two chosen stones on it to heat them up. Skillfully, he skinned the marmot and gutted it inside. When the stones were hot enough, he placed them inside the creature, hanging it above the flames. It would now cook from the inside out. He remembered grimly, recalling the devastation of those days, that this was a necessary precaution because these rodents often carried diseases; indeed, the black death may well have originated in one of them. He recalled walking through dead villages and towns across Asia, devastated by that awful plague 700 years before, and sighed. He thanked God for his meal and then ate the cooked flesh.

         His most recent vision was of a place in the Gobi Desert, far to the south. There was a white man with blonde hair and blue eyes, out of place in this part of the world, begging for help in American English. The man was wounded in one leg. In the vision, he saw desert wolves, vultures, and bandits circling around. His mission was to save the man. He recognized the Qilian mountains in the dream, the foothills of the more distant Himalayas. The trees and grass were brown in late autumn, and the snow line was already low. He had been there many times before. It puzzled him why this man was so deep inside China. The man wore a cross, and there was a bible on the ground before him. Was he a missionary, a spy, or a fugitive from the Chinese state? Time would answer his questions and reward his faithful obedience to God's command.

         He walked the expanses of Asia because the range of a healthy and well-watered horse was only about 35 miles a day. Crossing deserts and mountains was often impossible for them. At a steady jog, he was able to do a regular 60 miles a day across all terrains. So it only took him some ten days to travel across the dry desert to reach the mountains in the distant south. Knowing the desert well, he knew where to find the water that lingered in its underground caves all through the year. After he crossed the main highway and approached the Qilian Range, he heard the mechanical whir of rotor blades. It was a drone. Searching for it with his mind, feeling for it in the sky, he found it, and he crippled it without turning around and revealing his face. He then moved to its crash site to investigate it. The script on the side was Chinese, and he recognized it as a standard military reconnaissance drone. So the People's army was searching for its man; he must be close. He searched his mind, recalling the details of his dream, there was a waterfall to one side, a lake to the left, and a particular mountain shape. Scanning the horizon, he found the mountain and started walking toward it. He was southeast of Zhangye and in the remote countryside when he spotted the waterfall, now frozen and glistening in the sunshine.

         Triangulating his position with the frozen waterfall, he found the part of the mountain in his vision. It was midday when he spotted the man, who was passed out in a ravine. The man had hidden between a spruce and juniper tree and behind some rocks and was unconscious due to the loss of blood. There was a frozen pool of water nearby. A fire was soon burning, and he heated up some ice in a pot. Using his powers to feel for and carefully extract the bullet, he began the healing process. The bone had also shattered, but he pushed it back together, probing the man's inner thigh with his mind for the broken pieces until the jigsaw puzzle was complete. He could feel the bones start to knit together, but it would take many weeks to completely heal. He gave the unconscious man some antibiotics that he carried that would help guard him against infection, holding his nose to force him to swallow them. Then he created a wooden splint and tied the man's leg to it. The following dawn, the man woke up next to a warm fire and to the smell of freshly cooked Tibetan partridge.

         The man looked weak and hagged. He looked suspiciously at the traveler at first, but then he looked down at his leg, seeing the splint and smelling the food on the fire.

         "It seems you saved my life. Who are you?" the man asked the traveler. The traveler glanced over at him as the man pulled himself into a seated position on the nearby rocks.

         "Ezekiel," he replied. "I was born in Israel many years ago, and I am here to help. You took a bullet, but I have extracted it, and your broken leg will heal in time. God sent me to you."

         "A Jew in the Gobi desert! What are you? Mossad?"

         "No, not Mossad or any other spy organization—just a traveler," laughed Ezekiel as he examined the man. He had seen many people, over many hundreds of years, and could recognize types very quickly, but this man seemed caught between two identities. "Are you a missionary or a spy?"

         The man looked around as if wondering who was watching, and Ezekiel concluded he was more of a spy than a missionary.

         "Oh, I see. I read the documents in your pouch about the bioweapons facility here in the Gobi. So the cross and the Bible are just a mask you wear. You are a long way from home."

         The man returned his gaze to Ezekiel, who was silently studying him.

         "You can read Mandarin, yet you speak perfect English. Are you here to help me?" he asked after a long pause.

         "You can trust me to do that. What will you do with those documents?" The man did not answer. Ezekiel offered him some food, which he gobbled down quickly, he was clearly very hungry. Ezekiel also gave the man a bowl of water. "Don't eat so quickly; chew the meat and drink as well; you've lost a lot of blood."

         Ezekiel continued as the man ate, "The documents spoke about a new plague, a manufactured one, for which only the Chinese have a vaccine. It sounds like it will be worse than the bubonic plague. The Chinese consider that it might change the global balance of power. Of course, just because they have a plan does not mean they intend to carry it out," Ezekiel suggested. "Covid showed us that viruses are hard to control and hurt everyone in the end." Then, paraphrasing Sun Tzu, he added, "Every battle is won or lost before it is fought."

         The man shook his head, eyeing Ezekiel curiously, and asked, "Who are you? How can you read through such dense scientific material and analysis so fast?"

         "It doesn't matter; where do you call home? You are lucky it snowed last night. I can put you on a sled and take you where you want to go."

         "That will not be necessary," said the man, "I have made my own arrangements."

         Ezekiel turned just in time to see the man draw a gun and a flash from the barrel. The bullet penetrated his skull, and he fell into darkness.

         Sometime later, the bullet popped out of Ezekiel's skull, and the wound in his head healed up. He raised himself off the ground, seeing a small helicopter in the distance flying low across the white, snow-covered Gobi, moving fast towards the Mongolian border.

         He laughed, rubbing the spot where the bullet had entered his head. Then he grimaced at himself. No wonder the Chinese do not trust foreign missionaries, he thought.

         There was still some leftover Tibetan partridge. He gave thanks for his food, heated it up on the fire, and finished his meal.

W/C & Notes

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