The sentinel hung motionless, three feet in the air, as Kelsey approached it. Unmoved by the noise of her approach–which, in her ancient kerosene-powered beater, was considerable–it only responded when she was within a car length.

A grinding electronic noise sputtered forth from a hidden speaker somewhere on a cuboid form caked with dust and grit. At once time, it might have been intelligible, a demand which one could understand. Now, it was merely a signal to display a talismen.

Kelsey stopped and got out, leaving the engine idle and knocking. She held up a faded rectangle of plastic, on which the barest ghosts of writing and a picture could still be discerned. It wasn’t Kelsey’s picture, nor could she read the writing, but that didn’t matter. She’d bought it from a trader for a very dear price, since it was the only thing that the sentinel would accept.

Red beams shot out from the thing’s core, probing for the talismen. Finding it, further wordless sound crackled out of it. That was the signal that it was safe to proceed.

Kelsey reentered her vehicle, carefully winding it through the slagged wrecks of travelers who had not carried the proper artifacts. Whatever the sentinel’s eternal job was, it had discharged it well.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!