Roland was the sand. The desert spoke to him in ways most people never understood. Those Roland encountered who had tried, without exception, listened attentively to the siroc. As if the wind knew the will of the ground!

Feeling Amicus hot on his back, Roland loosened the warg pelt that served as his sole attire. The vestments of his former life – the armour and such – still lay under the makeshift bronto-hide tent, though a year of disuse had covered it in a thick layer of desert dust.

Bibip. Bibip. Bibip.

Roland frowned. In his year out here, the desert had never made that sound at him before. Still, there was something familiar about it. As if the significance of the sound lay somewhere dormant in his mind, covered in the same dust as his armour.

Bibip. Bibip. Bibip.

Again? The sand was rarely so insistent. Roland prodded his slowly roasting rollerrat with a stick, sighed, and stood up heavily, tilting his head. The sound repeated, and Roland took several steps in its direction, before stopping, waiting. When the sound played again, Roland followed it, then again stopped after a few steps. He repeated this cycle once more, and found himself inside his tent. He idly noticed a tear in the leather, allowing a beam of harsh sunlight to break the shade, and thought about repairing it before he was drawn back to the task at hand by the repetition of the sound.

The source was not the desert at all, but a dented metal object. He picked up the device carefully and studied it, momentarily quizzical, as if it were some mysterious artefact from an archaeological dig. He jumped, startled, when it made the sound again. Presently, he recognised it as his comm. When had that turned itself on? As he pressed it down, the 'receive' button scraped unpleasantly against the sand that had infiltrated the mechanism.

"...Hello?" Roland said uncertainly.

"Hi!" A voice like oil oozed from the speaker grille. "Are you happy with your interstellar communications carrier?"

Roland ran three fingers through his long, matted beard as he considered this. "Am I happy...?" He paused for an eternity. "That’s... That’s a difficult question. Should I be?"

"In either case," the telemarketer went on, without missing a beat. "I’m sure we here at Suul Communications can provide you with a better, cheaper service! And if you sign up today, we’re offering one month free to all registered Clan members. Are you a registered Clan member, sir?"

Roland cast a glance at his armour. Good question. Incommunicado for a year. Probably be shot as a deserter if I go back. Then resurrected and shot again. Do they shoot deserters? There are none more deserter than me. After a year in the desert, I’m every bit as much a deserter as a neut is a Newlander.

"Sir?" the telemarketer insisted.

"What? Yes, yes. Sort of." Roland replied irritably. New, more important questions had begun to coalesce in his mind. Questions of returning to civilisation, of returning to the fight.

"Okay, then! Let me tell you a bit more about-"

Roland clicked the communicator off. Return. No decisions yet. I’ll just go to Tir and see what’s what.

"But maybe first," he said aloud as he caught sight of his distorted reflection in the metal of his comm, "I should have a shave."