It had been said that only the cockroaches would survive, but men did too.
Rondo the rustler! the rapscallion! the rogue was perfect. He was tall and slim but tended to hunch in a brooding sort of way, with hat down over his eyes, so that you could only see the white of teeth set in a sculpted jaw when he talked. He had two arms as taut as rawhide braided into cords and two legs to match. And he had the right number of digits on the end of each of those amazing limbs, a body with the kind of symmetry that made him a real uncommon specimen. Unlike me; I'm as common as they come, humpbacked and potbellied, only three fingers on my right hand and six on my left, an extra eye that's useless, gawking from its socket, but seeing nothing. I fit in just fine, but Rondo! he was perfect, just like a picture in a book.
Maybe that's why he was tied to a stake and I wasn't.
It was one day in the middle of the never-ending summer when Rondo, burned brown by the sun, sat with his back against a broad rock and felt the pang of restlessness. Looking out toward the desert he asked me in a sleepy sort of way if I'd ever heard of the place where mad King Horath had hidden his harem. Legend said it was a tower of fire in the Desert of Death, a tower so high it split the sky. And they were waiting there, tall, full-bosomed and naked with ringlets of long golden hair falling over their shoulders, and all perfect just like Rondo.
I said I hadn't, but hearing the lust in Rondo's voice, I wondered aloud why I should care about herding these sorry beasts for a square meal every other day. So we let our six-legged steeds have a couple of the beasties for lunch. Then we jumped on their black armored backs, tugged on their antennae and rode them into the desert.
We had scurried for a week when we first saw the tower. The legend didn't do it justice. It seemed to be a column of pure light. Rondo howled, stood on his roach's back and waved us on with his hat. All morning we kept it ahead of us, our sacred goal, and it continued to grow larger and brighter until I had to cry whenever I looked toward it. And then as the boiling sun passed overhead, the tower disappeared.
Rondo pulled hard on his roach's antennae and it hissed wildly and reared up before stopping. Rondo seemed lost. He shouted that it was all a cruel joke. He wept. The endless heat was taking its toll. I looked for a long time at the horizon, my burned eyes feeling like I had rubbed a handful of desert in them. To my surprise I could still faintly make out the lines of the tower. And then I understood. It was mirrored, I explained to Rondo, a massive structure covered with mirrors.
The next day we happened upon a dry river bed. And curse our dumb luck, it seemed to meander off toward the tower. The roaches liked to have a path to follow and the river bed had steep walls of concrete. We were being reckless, but Rondo didn't care. He was just happy that the Harem of Horath was once again within his grasp. He let his roach run, let go of the antennae and raised his arms in the air, and laughed. But then Rondo's roach hissed, and jagged rocks rained on us from both sides, accompanied by the harrying hoots of bestial men. I saw Rondo fall moments before I felt a crack against my skull.
I woke at dusk. We had been dragged all the way to the foot of the mirrored tower. The rock throwers were all around me, feasting, dancing in and out of the shadows. Each was more deformed than the last, an extra arm here, a gnarled face there, slobbering and grinning, hunched and twisted. They gnawed at jagged chunks of meat. And then I realized the acrid smell that filled my nostrils was burning roach. The rock throwers were eating our mounts. I looked frantically among the tribe for Rondo.
There he was in the center of the rock throwers, standing straight and still like a pillar. The rock throwers were dancing around him with gobs of meat in hand held above their heads, roach juice running down their arms. Flames were licking at his feet, but Rondo didn't move. He was tied to a stake, and his head was slumped to his chest. I could see blood dried on his forehead. And I knew then that they planned to eat him too.
I tried to reach him, but they drove me back. My head swam. I stumbled to the edge of the throng and dropped to the ground. I begged them to take me instead, but they were picky eaters. I was too much like them while Rondo was perfect.
Then the tower became like the sun, and there was light everywhere. It was like the day had come to save Rondo. The rock throwers screamed and moaned and limped off looking for a scrap of darkness to slink into.
They came from out of the light of the tower, seven perfect beautiful blond-haired women, dressed all in white suits with glass helmets. One opened her right hand and a spray of snow sprang from her palm to extinguish the fire at Rondo's feet. Then the leader walked up and turning Rondo's face, examined his perfect countenance. She turned back toward the tower but motioned to the others first. So they cut him down and three to a side, they carried him. And that is how Rondo the rustler ascended to heaven.