Sonkbox

The hum of the broken air conditioning and rickety plastic panels funneled into Roebeck's ears, forming his personal symphony of unease. Stone-walled, he looked out the portholes of the bus, seeing only the dimming sun in the distance. On his hands, he nervously looped his fingers into each other as they danced to the tune of the rhythmic din. It was a bad tic. The trip would only be one more hour and he had already spent the first two fast asleep.

He paid little attention to the other passengers. Faceless. Mundane. The man with the bowler hat was the only well dressed among the group. Not a lot of people would go into Death Valley in the waning temperatures of a dying summer except for Roebeck and whoever these other people were. Still, the night weather would cool the surrounding area down and he wondered if the night there would still be hot. He was used to the heat anyhow, having come from Palm Springs.

Training they said.

For what, he didn't know. Roebeck's Warder mentors spoke of it between each other, but never directly towards him.

Ed knows where the Oracle 's moved his van this month. I can make a call down to him in San Diego and ask.

He thought it was some kind of code at the time. What was the Oracle? A van? Maybe it was some sort of divining artifact, or a rite of initiation or something.

He spoke up to Ryker, the woman who inducted him into the Society, to voice his questions, but she gave him a vague answer.

He's your next teacher. We've already packed some supplies for you. We're sending you down there to train with him for a month.

He had many more questions, but his skittishness prevented him from asking. Being nineteen with very little life experience tended to do that. He should have asked but it was too late now.

Ryker was trustworthy to him, being an old family friend. He had no idea why she was associated with the Society, but assumed it was because she may have had family connections to it. She was a competent software engineer at some kind of startup he didn't know, maybe a big company he assumed. It was hard for him to remember. She was also a socialite with Ivy league connections from around the country. Most importantly, she helped settle his family financially after his mother had died, something he had no idea how to repay her back for. But this initiative he took in accepting the offer of initiation into the Society was his way to repay her. The crushing lack of drive in his life and the general malaise he felt obscured his ambitions but with her direction, he thought he could be something.

Sink or swim, Jordan Roebeck.

It was then that he dove back to the surface from his thoughts. The bus stopped as the scenery snapped into rocky desert hills. The driver turned around and slurred his words for the stop announcement.

"Death Valley Junction. Your stop, folks."

The passengers had quickly clambered out of the bus while the man with the bowler hat waited in his seat. Jordan took time to pull up the hiking pack Ryker provided. He stood by his seat and waited for the man to leave first. It was the polite thing to do. The man continued to stare outside. Jordan inquisitively leaned in to speak to the bowler hat man.

"Um, you can go ahead of me. We're stopped now."

The older man shifted his head towards Jordan's direction. "So we are?" His head turned back.

"Hey, just letting you know this is the last stop," the bus driver said as he stared at the two. "You need to get off here so I can drive this back to the depot."

Sighing, the man stood up, grasping the seat in front of him. "Thank you for the drive."

The bus driver gave a slight smile. "You're welcome. Have a good night."

Jordan watched as he saw the man clatter down the steps of the bus and soon followed suit. The expectedly cool air washed over him as he stepped outside. Looking around, he found nothing in this town save for the old white pueblo buildings that tourists often visited. There were a few shops open, namely a diner and small-town convenience store. He waited by the bus stop hoping to find whoever the Oracle was.

The old man he sat with earlier was nowhere to be found and had probably hopped off into one of the nearby buildings for work or something. In his waiting, he wondered if he would ever changed the way he dressed like that when he was older. He looked down at his clothes, finding a loose-fitting grey hoodie and khaki cargo pants. His shoes were white and too large for his feet. He liked the extra space.

The sun had long set and the streets darkened. There were no streetlights, save for the ones near the historic building he sat next to. It was almost pitch black, hard to see beyond the washed orange over the parking lot. He must have waited at least thirty minutes. His neck chilled as he gently touched the hairs sticking up on his head. His stomach sank deeper into his abdomen with butterflies swirling around.

I'm so stupid. I'm so stupid for trusting them. Trusting Ryker. Coming here with no instructions and believing them.

His outward blank expression masked the boiling concern he felt. Jordan stood up and walked into the looming darkness, hoping a stray liquor store or building with light was open. Next to the historic building was a hotel, the Amargosa Opera House, just down the street. It would be his best bet at finding someone.

The doors of the hotel approached, with light barely glowing out of the curtained windows. His hand grasped the cold metal gingerly, fearing the smell of old pennies would stain his fingers. It opened smoothly into a room draped with wood, plaster, and red cloths. The man with the bowler hat was there.

"Oh? Oh. Welcome to the Amargosa Opera House," he started. "Can I help you?"

"I'm uh, wondering if you knew someone I can find in town?"

The man squinted at him and tilted his head. "There's not many people here. Who are you looking for?"

"That… I'm not sure. I was told to meet someone here, but they never showed up."

"Hum, that's unfortunate. Did you have a way home? Do you have a place to stay for the night? I hope that person is all right. I can offer you a temporary room for a few days if you'd like. Free of charge."

Jordan replied, "Thank you, but I'm not sure if I should go looking for them. I think I can find them on my own, though."

He was unsure if this man knew of the organization or was associated with the Oracle in any way. He was kind enough but he hated to owe another debt like this to someone.

The old man smiled. "That's fine. If you need help, I'll be here all night."

He remembered the motto, the phrase that would be said to identify others. He spoke it aloud.

"Scio…"

Again, the man furrowed at him. "Pardon?"

"Sory, nevermind that. Just thinking out loud. Have a good night!"

He quickly rushed out of the door.

Damn it, he was offering help! Why didn't I just say yes? Idiot. I'll look stupid if I go back now.

There was only one other source of light just outside the outskirts of town to which he stumbled towards. It was in a junkyard with a rusted fence perimeter and natural rock coverage dotted around. Several pieces of metal were strewn about as nondescript obstacles. The light came from a huge hunk of metal with some plume of smoke coming from it. As he moved closer, he saw the shard of metal was in fact a van with smoke spewing out the opened back doors.

Pushing a fence gate open, Roebeck approached the van. It was an astro-van, with ratty lawn chairs out in front. The light came from a gas lantern set on a plastic coffee table behind the vehicle. A man with wild hair was laying down with his back propped against a pillow in the back of the red van, surrounded by personal belongings and bobbleheads. He was smoking from a pipe in quick successive puffs while his attention focused on the clear starry night sky. A surfboard clung precariously on top of the van, though the ocean was three hundred miles away.

The man tiredly gazed downward, clearly hearing footsteps in the rocky sand. His pipe did not move from his mouth as he said the first words.

"Who the hell are you, dude?"

Stunned at his aggression, Roebeck replied to him, "Sorry. I'm uh, looking for someone. Can you help me?"

"If you told me who you're looking for, maybe I can?" His puffs continued in rhythm.

"Do you know what Scio means?"

"Skee-oh? What?"

"Sorry to bother you. I'm just… I was told to meet someone here but they never told me who or where."

"Sounds like you fucked up not knowing then, huh?"

"Yeah, sorry. I'll leave you alone."

"See ya, Jordan."

Roebeck froze. He knew his name.

"Are you who I'm looking for?"

"Who are you looking for?"

There was hesitation before he said the name.

"The Oracle."

"Well, I'm him."

It must have been him. He knew Jordan's name before even introducing himself as such. But now that he was face to face with who he was supposed to meet, he didn't know what to do. He looked pleadingly at the Oracle, hoping he'd give him some sort of instructions.

"You just gonna stand around like some weirdo? Grab a seat, dude. You're making me nervous."

Jordan did exactly that, hobbling into the torn up chairs as he placed his backpack down on the dirt. The chairs creaked as he sat, the plastic bending to support him.

The Oracle paused to exhale a breath of smoke. "So what are you here to meet me for?"

"Well, I'm part of an outfit called the Openers. They made arrangements and gave me a bus ticket to meet with you here, but they never told me where I'd find you, or anything like that."

"I asked for the reason you're meeting me, not for your life backstory.

"Oh. Uhm, sorry. I don't know."

The Oracle sighed as he checked the pipe's bowl. There seemed to be no embers left. "Dude, if you don't know why you're here, you might as well go home."

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