He had a given name, but never used it. Over the years he'd adopted all kinds of aliases and finally settled on one he liked. He called himself...Tannhäuser.
He was thirty years-old, lanky and tall, with short dark brown hair, and blue eyes that pierced, but which could not see in color.
He'd been born in a wasteland, a hellish place torn by war and famine called Earth, whose broken biosphere could barely support life. So many terraformed worlds in this Solar System, Tannhäuser frequently thought, and I had to be born in this...dump.
Unable to get off the planet, the young man traveled restlessly on his motorcycle across the ravaged, crater-filled plains, looking for food, for work, and for an answer which was as elusive as the question itself: Why?
One morning, he woke up to the sound of gunfire. Outside his tent it was still pitch-dark. Laying flat on the cold floor of the dry valley, Tannhäuser raised a night vision device and saw half-human marauders in the distance. There were five of them, riding modified armored dirtbikes and chasing after a truck-like vehicle. As he magnified the images, the young man saw it was a motorhome the marauders were after. Pushing the resolution even further, he peered inside the windows and made out the faces of several small scared children and a group of women.
Tannhäuser loaded his long range rifle, aimed, and shot two of the marauders. Then he jumped on his motorbike and raced across the plain after the remaining three. He rammed one off the road, and kept going, twisting the throttle grip until he was racing side-by-side with a long-haired armor-clad half-human. It saw him, raised its shotgun, and fired twice—missing. While it reloaded, Tannhäuser aimed his pistol at the hydrogen cell on the marauder's motorcycle and fired once, piercing and setting it ablaze. The half-human tumbled out of control and was engulfed in a ball of orange fire. One left... Tannhäuser thought, and pressed on ...their leader. As the much larger leader was preparing to shoot off the tires of the motorhome, a window slid open and a young woman pushed out a bolt action rifle. She fired and missed, and quickly reloaded. The marauder fell back, leaned its weight on the motorcycle, and switched to the opposite side of the speeding vehicle. The woman reappeared through a different window firing a new round. The half-human fell back again, got behind the vehicle where the woman couldn't shoot, full-throttled the engine, and hurled itself at the metal ladder attached to the exterior. "Shake him off!" shouted the woman to the driver. "He's climbing up!" The motorhome swerved from left to right as the driver tried to cast out the intruder but with its powerful grip the marauder continued climbing undeterred. Tannhäuser sped up, jumped on the ladder, and grabbed the leader's foot to drag him down. The half-human booted him and propped itself onto the roof of the vehicle. Oh no you don't, thought Tannhäuser, getting on the roof. As he and the half-human reached for their pistols, the woman shouted to the driver: "NOW!!" and the motorhome came to a sudden stop, hurling Tannhäuser and the marauder off the roof. The woman got out and with the marauder laying on the ground, shot it. Then she walked towards Tannhäuser, who was still unable to move or speak, and reloaded her rifle.
"I think he was just trying to help us," a different woman said.
"Yeah? Better safe than sorry." She raised her weapon.
"Hanna!" shouted the driver. "Leave that man alone! And get back inside!"
She lowered her rifle. "Guess it's your lucky day," she told Tannhäuser, and returned to the vehicle.
The young man managed to sit up and grabbed his throbbing head.
A door slammed.
He looked up.
The woman was returning.
Midway, though, she stopped.
The driver shouted to her: "What's taking you so long?"
"Oh Momma! Do I really need to?!"
"Yes! You need to Hanna! Now go do it!"
The woman grumbled and placed a ration pack on the ground near Tannhäuser.
Begrudgingly, she said: "Thank you."
Then, reaching inside her camouflage jacket, Hanna pulled out a box of fruit punch and threw it at him. "Idiot," she whispered. The young woman boarded the motorhome and left with the other women and children as the sun began to rise.
Tannhäuser picked himself up and walked back to his motorcycle. He ran a systems check and confirmed that the electronics and fuel cell were fine. Then he unsheathed his knife, opened the ration pack, and ate breakfast. He didn't remember the last time he had a juice box. But it tasted wonderful.
Thank you for reading!