Desert's End

"Here's good."

The driver looked over at him and arched a bushy eyebrow. "Ya sure, man? I mean, I been to that diner and the food's good, but there ain't nothing else around here for miles 'cept the fuel station."

"Here's good." Jason Gideon repeated, fishing in his pocket. "Here." He handed him a few bills. "For the gas."

"Aw, man, don't be like that." The man protested, trying to push the money away. "Just a friendly lift,that's all. Sides, I like you."

"Take it as a gift, then," insisted Gideon with a gentle smile. "It's always a pleasure to meet new people."

With a final shake of his head, the man took the bills. "You take care, man."

"You too." Gideon replied, pushing open the truck door. Grabbing hold of his satchel, he jumped out of the truck and onto the dusty pavement of the diner's parking lot. As the truck drove away, he looked about with a sigh and nodded.

Nothing. For miles. Clear, barren, desert, marked with sagebrush and the occasional mountain jutting up against the horizon. And, of course, the diner and the fuel station just in front of him. There were a few cars in the parking lot, but they looked dusty and well-traveled… either travelers on their way elsewhere, or ranchers for who this desolate eatery was the nearest thing to a restaurant.

The door to the diner jingled merrily as he pushed it open, and a fat woman with a frowzy hairdo looked up as he entered. "Afternoon, mister!" she called cheerily. "What can I do ya for?"

"Burger, fries, and a coffee, please," answered Gideon, taking a seat at the counter. He tried not to notice how the woman's smile didn't quite reach her eyes, how the wrinkles indicated how usual this was, how she clutched the rag fiercely with her left hand, and how her shoulders slumped so slightly as she turned to the stove.

He tried, but the observation was too deeply ingrained. It wasn't analytical, like Reid's, but after so many years, it was instinctive. He couldn't help realizing the hollowness of the woman's manner.

"Here ya are, hun." The woman plunked a plate down in front of him, filled with a greasy burger and a pile of thick fries. Setting a mug beside it, she poured out some steaming black coffee. "Anything ya want with that?"

"Some ketchup, please."

"You got it." A bottle (A glass one, Gideon noted with approval) slid over on the smooth counter. "And for the coffee?"

"Oh, I take it black," answered Gideon with a chuckle, already raising the mug to his lips.

"Whatever floats your boat," said the hostess, leaning across the counter. "So. Where you headed?"

Still trying to repress his inner profiler (half-lidded eye, energetic manner of wiping the counter, tension—all implies lack of real interest), Gideon shrugged and offered the same answer as always. "Not sure."

But he got a slightly different reply this time. The woman looked at him and arched an eyebrow. "Oh… so you're one of THEM."

Gideon looked at her, uncomprehending. But she just pushed off the counter and walked off, shaking her head.

For a while Gideon sat, eating, puzzling over the hostess' strange response. There was no trace of irony or scorn to what she'd said. Her manner indicated familiarity, even boredom, with Gideon's predicament. And perhaps just a touch of arrogance, too… like someone who knows more than another, and knows it.

Gideon had been eating and puzzling for all of five minutes when a scrawny, wrinkled man sat on the stool next to him. He was tan and lanky, with bristly grey hair cropped short, wearing a flannel shirt and baseball cap. "Hey." He said, by way of greeting.

"Hello." Gideon offered the man a smile. Polite, knowing smile. Predatory gleam. Arrogant air. Man knows something I don't and wants something I have. Money, probably.

The man stuck out his hand. "John Travis."

Gideon shook it. "Jason Gideon."

"Pleasure," nodded the man. "Hope ya don't mind me eavesdropping, but I happened to hear what ya said to Maisie back there—about where yer going." He squinted and grinned. "For a few dollars, I kin take ya there."

Jason cocked his head. "If you really heard me, you know that I don't really have a destination."

Shaking his head like someone who has heard it all before, Travis grinned again. "Lemme put it this way. Ya headin' west?"

"I'm not…" but now that he thought about it, west did seem like a good direction. That strange cloud plume was off in the west. "I… suppose so."

"Then how about I take ya west, and when I drop you off, ya can decide what to pay me."

It was a strange deal, but Gideon could sense no deceit or subterfuge in the man's demeanour. "Alright." He nodded.

"One hunrred dollars," said Travis.

"Here you go," said Gideon, handing him his wallet without even turning around. His thoughts were flying. That ranch, that volcano, that… For some reason he felt he needed to be here. The melancholia that had driven him from place to place had lifted and for some reason, the world about him seemed to lift his spirits to something new. A sense, almost, of adventure.

"Oooh, thank you sir, very generous." Travis said, thumbing through the wallet. "Got anything I should say to any family or friends what comes looking for ya?"

"What?" Gideon DID turn at this remark. "Oh, no, nothing special, no family, friends aren't… don't worry about it." He said. Something on the dashboard caught his eye. "What's that camera for?"

John Travis grunted as he started up the truck. "It's so, when the Missing Persons bureau comes looking for ya, I can prove you was alive and well when I left ya."


But Travis just shook his head and drove away, and Gideon was left in the bare desert, with a gravel road behind him and a small, extinct volcano just before him. The only things that could be seen were a wire fence around the volcano, a dusty old highway sign leaning up against the fence, and just at the foot of the volcano, an old white trailer home.

With an almost childlike sense of excitement, such as he had not felt in years, Gideon climbed over the fence and started walking toward the trailer. About halfway there he started running. Now he could see, beside the trailer, an odd sort of windmill and a dark crack in the ground, like a cleft of some sort.

Breathing a little hard, he came up short beside the trailer. A short, heavyset man in a hawaian t-shirt looked up at him and nodded amicably.

"Hey," said the man. "Welcome. So, uh… I'm… Zandi. I probably know more about why you're here than you do…"

A/N: I'm so distractable. I should really be working on those multi-chapter fics I have going. But these oneshots are just so fun and short...

For those of you who came here from the CM fandom, that last sentence is essentially the start to the puzzle game Uru, a beautiful game that completely failed on the market several years ago. The premise involves people from all over the world getting "called" to this particular location in the desert, where they shortly get teleported away to a world of wonder and amazement. It's a pretty cool game, though it has plenty of bugs.

So I bought said game recently. Frustrating, in parts-stupid fireflies-beautiful in others. But mostly, I was intrigued by the idea of what it would be like for an ordinary person to just get up, leave their life, and come out to the desert. About how absolutely puzzled they would be by the whole experience. And then I thought of Jason Gideon, one of my favorite characters, who left his job and disappeared on a soul-searching journey. Granted, he did that because his job was as depressing as all get-out, but he still fit wonderfully well.

So. That's where this came from. Hope you enjoy. I am working on the next chapter of Got Your Number, I promise!