Bunny's answer to a fanfic request meme was to ask for a ficlet about Kurtis before AOD, with the prompt 'sand'. That prompt, and a KTEB thread all about how people viewed Kurtis' character, inspired this rough and ready little piece about Kurtis in his mercenary days. I hope this is ok, Bun.
Kurtis used to love sand as a kid. Whilst still too young for the Order, he'd attended a public school, in order to benefit from the social development to be gained from being around other, normal children. The school had had a sand-filled long-jump pit and he'd played in it at recess, feeling the way it slid through his fingers, left a thin coating of rough, irritating grains on his palm, felt burning hot in the sun. It was a treat to play in the sand, always loved because it was never too easily accessible. Now, however, in his seventh week out in the desert, sand was purely an annoyance.
It got everywhere. It was uncomfortable to sit on in the heat. It didn't retain any warmth during the cold nights. It hurt his eyes if he forgot to properly dust off his hands before rubbing them. It held wolf spiders and scorpions. It was dead, eroded, leeching rock and it stretched for fucking miles.
He stopped his unending march and pulled out his GPS to check his position. The unit was large, clunky, heavy, had a sizeable radius of error. Roll on the time when the technology would be matured enough to be practical. Still, it was better than trying to navigate by the stars or maps or however else people had previously managed in the featureless wilderness of Libya.
He was almost at the agreed spot. Thank god for that. Wait for the car coming, pull the trigger, get back to camp. Then food. Then drink. Lots of it. Then maybe some porn. Why not?
Coming to the top of a rise, the Northern-most village of the inhabited area came into view, about a third of a mile away, coloured rugs hanging on lines next to a squat building with a decrepit Land Rover outside catching the sun. He looked down the road leading from the village, saw no traffic in sight, not that he expected any, and checked his watch. He did indeed have some time to wait; about twenty minutes, if his intel was good. He flattened himself just below the peak of the dune, propped himself on his forearms, got his weapon in position, and drank some water. It had warmed.
When the distant vehicle came within sight on the cracked, empty road, Kurtis pulled out his binoculars and zoomed in. That was definitely Yusuf in the passenger seat, and the driver…yes, he was recognisable from intelligence too. He began to lower the equipment, but a movement caught his attention, and he focused in again.
He swore to himself, a slow, drawn-out curse. There was a boy in the backseat, no more than twelve years old. As the car drew nearer, he could more easily make out the child's expression – he was scared, but resigned. It wasn't clear from his vantage point, but Kurtis was willing to bet that he was also restrained. Probably, for whatever reason, he'd caught Yusuf's attention, and was now to become part of the dissident's gang of street-kids turned soldiers. Kurtis sighed. It couldn't be easy, could it? Could never be easy.
He pushed the RPG to one side and readied his sniper rifle instead, formulating a new plan. Shoot the front left tire, let them think they'd got a flat, head-shot Yusuf, get the driver if he could.
Kurtis aimed and fired.
The tire blew with a bang that rolled around the undulating landscape and Yusuf, paranoid, and with reason, began to panic. Unintelligible shouts from him and his employee clamoured over each other as the target yelled for protection and the driver calmly brought the vehicle to a controlled halt. He got out, gesturing to the shredded tire, refuting Yusuf's continued commotion. The boy cowered in the back.
"Come on, Yusuf," Kurtis sang to himself, waiting for a clear shot as the man in his sights swung his gaze all about and bobbed about in the open-topped four wheel drive. The driver got angry, shouted for calm as he began to work on the tire. Yusuf shouted back, offended.
He had calmed, though, and Kurtis pulled the trigger. Yusuf collapsed backwards in his seat, eyes wide. The driver took one look, froze for a moment, and then dived for the door. Kurtis shot him in the shoulder, he staggered, took another three bullets in the back, and dropped.
The boy trembled in the back seat, eyes on the bodies.
His boots slipping back down as he tried to stand on the rising slope, Kurtis managed to right himself, and, slinging his guns over his shoulder, slid down to the road. He gave a cursory glance to the prisoner, who stared back with even greater fear than before, and looked Yusuf over. Definitely dead. He toed the other guy, gained no response, kicked him over onto his back, and checked his expression. Also clearly dead.
"It's ok, kid," Kurtis offered, not too warmly, as he pulled open the back door of the car. "You come from that village over there?"
They couldn't understand each other, of course, so Kurtis pointed. The boy looked to the village, then back at Kurtis, and shook his head furiously. Maybe he didn't come from there. More likely he didn't want to go back there. It really wouldn't surprise Kurtis if the kid had very recently been orphaned by the same men who now lay dead feet away. He sighed.
"Ok, then," he said, "I'm gonna let you go now. Ok? Ok. Stay calm." Not wishing to invoke a violent protest, Kurtis slowly reached out and, receiving none, went on to take the boy's wrists and urge him to twist in his seat. He did, and Kurtis found his hands bound by thin rope. He sawed through it with his knife, and then did the same to free the child's feet.
He changed the tire, the boy watching.
Standing up, he pointed to the village and said, "Go on, then," and went around to the other side of the car to pull Yusuf's body to the ground. He got in, climbed across to the driver's seat, and settled in. The boy hadn't got out, though, so he turned and waved him away. "Go on."
There still was no movement, so Kurtis got back out, lifted the boy from the car, placed him on the roadside, and got back behind the wheel.
A short, staccato sentence made him look back. The boy was staring at him, a look half way between expectancy and disbelief.
"Oh, no. No way. Look, I didn't do this for your benefit. I kept you alive, now you go your way and I go mine. Bye."
He was about to start the engine when hands slapped onto the top of the door and an accusing face was shoved towards his. Another volley of clipped words, a pause, and then two more that Kurtis understood.
"Al Quatuf." The child pointed down the road. "Al Quatuf!"
Al Quatuf was a town. It was not a town anywhere near where Kurtis was heading. He shook his head. "Sorry, kid. Make your own way." He removed the boy's hands from the car and drove away.
Another torrent of words came after him, probably abusive. The boy aimed a hefty kick at the ground, sending a shower of sand toward the retreating vehicle, dry and useless.