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Deathlands: Local Nonlocality
Last Post 7/13/2015 11:36 PM by Randarchist. 124 Replies.
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Randarchist
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--
11/2/2014 1:05 PM

Hector Munoz pushed the rubber sheet he'd been using as a hatch cover into a jackalope hide saddlebag on the Panted Pony's cargo rack. He checked the action on the RPK machine blaster and adjusted the brass catcher. The hundred round drum magazine was loaded with tracer and armor piercing 7.62 mm rounds in case some big hardshell mutant decided to pay the convoy a dinner visit. Hector had seen his share of big bugs and lizards in the seven years he'd spent combing the Chihuahua for useful salvage. The steel core AP bullets could punch through hide, shell or light armor. If any mutie scorp was rock dumb enough to poke its ugly face into his line of fire, he was going to get ground to paste.

"Pony checking in, Chief" Hector said into his radio head set, "and all clear mesa side."
"Copy. Stay peeped, Painted Pony." Alvarez answered on the short range comm channel.
"Roger that."

Hector gave the ring bearings of the rotating gun mount a few squirts of fat based lube and slowly turned the mount from side to side. Smooth, he thought, and worth every token. It was his discovery of a double trailer rig full of steel "I" beams that paid for the Baja style buggy's rebuild. The scout wag had style and it was all his, the gunner was just a hired hand who got twenty percent of the haul. Munoz was twenty three and owned his own life, even if most of it was tied up in the scout buggy. His father would have been proud if he had survived the rebellion against Milagros. He would have loved the Painted Pony too, Hector thought.

The four hour watch seemed to drag time at a snails pace. A small band of what looked like pure strain coyote got only close enough to satisfy their canine curiosity. Hector saw their eyes reflecting the camp fire light for only a moment before they skulked away into the dark expanse of the Sonoran night. Two and a half tedious hours passed with no sign of life other than the the occasional coyote howl. Hector was chewing on a slice of barbecued iguana when he spotted a slender female form in a white gown stumbling out of the shale dark shadows between the crumbling supports of a nearby highway ramp.

"Heads up, we got somebody over by that 'crete riser to the southwest." Hector reported over the short range. The spot light on top of the next scout wag lit up and turned its beam toward the ruined concrete columns some 70 yards from the convoy ring.
The girl in the dirty, torn night dress clumsily staggered and then tripped over her own ripped nightgown hem. Hector heard her scream and that was enough for him to judge.
"Need some back up! We have a rescue situation here!" He yelled as he hopped out of the gun station with the old AKM slung over his shoulder.

The screaming girl pushed up from the ground and turned in the direction she had come from. Hector saw that the young woman had some kind of pipework blaster in her right hand, which she pointed into the shadows between the fallen highway risers and fired. If the bullet hit anything, it gave no cry. Hector unslung the AKM and pulled the bolt to chamber the first round of the thirty round banana mag.
"Down! Down!" He yelled in Spanish and English, but the young woman was too out of it to register the warning.
Suddenly from the black cover of the highway structure, two half naked men in dirty jeans blundered out after the girl. They carried home made long blasters in their hands and were bleeding from their faces and necks. The fat pipe gun she was packing must have been loaded with shrapnel, both men were gurgling blood from holes in their throats. When the two attackers saw Hector track the business end of the AKM in their direction, they screamed in rage at the young woman in the long white dress.
"Oh no you don't." Hector said as he fired a short burst of thundering death at the lead assailant. The bikers head tore away from the jaw up and his body folded under to the rocky dirt. The second one threw down his gun and spun on his heel to attempt a retreat. He didn't get the first step down before a second burst from the Juarez/Cubano AKM exploded through his torso, ripping him almost in half on a diagonal line from his hip to his shoulder.
The girl turned her tear streaked face to the approaching scout and dropped the crude scatter blaster on the desert floor.
"Please don't hurt me!" The girl pleaded in English before she fell onto her side and curled into a sobbing ball on the sand. When Hector reached out to help her up, she whimpered and jerked at his touch.
"It's okay. I won't touch, no touching, okay?" Hector said as he kicked her pipe gun away.

Jen Gutierrez was in the group of four convoy sec who came running to the scene of the short fight, not that it was much of a battle. Hector waved her over to talk nice to the traumatized coil of weeping flesh that was rocking fetal in front of him.
"Hey, it's safe, chica." Jen comforted the girl "Nobody here wants to hurt you. Hector and I, we are friends, okay? We won't let nobody touch you if you don't want, okay? But we can't stay here, coyotes are all over."

The girl nodded and sat up, knees pulled up to her chest.
"Can't feel my body. They took my shoes. My feet are cut up." The girl said quietly.
Jen helped her stand but the shaking girl was not fully in control of her body.
Hector scooped her up in his arms and instantly smelled the violation that the two dead men had visited on the girl.
"I... I am so sorry for what they done with you." Hector whispered to the girl, who began to cry into his shoulders as he carried her back to the convoy camp.

Randarchist
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--
11/3/2014 1:56 AM

Hector laid the girl in the soiled dress on a med cot in the crew tent. She was done shaking, which was a relief. The medic came in, grabbed a pair of latex gloves from a cardboard box before dismissing him.
"Back to your post, I got this."
The ville doctors trained all the combat medics to smile through even a hopeless case. It gave the patient comfort and made them easier to manage, they said.
Hector patted the girl on the hand before heading out the door flap.
"Thank you, Hector." The girl said softly.
"Okay, hon, my name is Rita. I'm a medic for the convoy. What's your name?"
"Mouse... Mamma said I's cute as a mouse when I's birthed. But she chilled. Chilled Daddy and baby Andy too."
The medic smiled with her mouth only.
"I don't see any cuts. Looks like they beat on you. Mouse, can you tell me where it hurts most?" She could guess the answer, but asked just in case.
"Hurt me down there. They done same on Mamma. They said birthin' too much had ruined the prize." The girl said emotionless.
"How long did they have you?"
Mouse paused to think before answering. "Since last mornin'. Daddy traded all our ammo boxes for them to take us across the Sonora. They said was a place with no muties, no rads, no problems with raiders."
The medic had heard of this practice. The con was simple: tell people there's greener pastures and offer to take them there in exchange for all they had scrounged, then put them on the last train west. It worked because the people in the Deathlands had nothing else to hope for. Rita opened the medicine box and took out what looked like a corn muffin in a plastic sandwich bag and a bottle of very clear (by modern post apocalyptic standards, anyway) looking water.
"Here," Rita handed her the bottle and muffin, "this has marijuana in it. We use them to help those in pain."
Mouse nodded and accepted the gift.

The medic pulled out a set of BDU's from her shoulder bag and a pair of prenuke flip flops. She asked if the girl would like to clean up.
"Yes, but I don't have a wash basin."
"Oh, I have a treat for you. Put the shoes on and follow me."
"Yessum." Mouse replied sweetly. The girl couldn't be more than sixteen, Rita thought, and already so damaged.

Rita and Mouse were met by Jen Gutierrez as she was stepping out of the curtained phone booth next to the crew tent. Small orange blue hoses ran from the top of the booth to one of the multicolored nozzles on the side of the trailer.
"Those guys might have had leopard mites, but the decon shower will get them off. Now don't swallow the waters, you will get sick. Just relax and turn around so the sprays can get all sides. I am not going anywhere, Mouse. We are safe here."

Rita waited patiently as the girl washed the stink of the experience away, then passed her a towel and the change of clothes.

Hark Danby watched the interactions as his Trojan horse played the Juarez convoy staff for the fool.
"These stupes are even weaker than I thought." He told his second in command.
"They sure are, Hark, you sure got them scoped."
"Shut up, Sam. These lily nate greasers, I don't know how they got the drop on our boys so many years now. But oh y'all wait. Tonight is gonna be just the start of our payback. Because once we got these feebs out of the way, we are going to make sure that the rest of Juarez burns for their offenses."
The bikers grunted and nodded at the thought in unison.

After the shower, Rita took Mouse back to the tent to rest.
"Mouse, I have to do my watch shift, but don't worry. Jen will be in the next tent. We are departing in the morning, so our chief will probably ask you what you want to do. Don't decide now. Just rest. Everything is going to be better now."
Then the medic walked out to relieve one of the tired sec men on the watch.
"Triple stupe whore." Mouse said a minute later before she rolled off the cot and silently untied the back panel of the shelter. She slid down the pants the medic had gifted her and pulled out a plastic wrapped device from beneath the shorts underneath. It was a bit warm from being taped to her thigh, but seemed no worse for it.

Hark had crawled into a nice thick bush to get a good view of the spy in action. He only caught glimpses of the clever young daughter of his former mentor. What he saw impressed him. Mouse rolled under the canvas wall panel and set the device on the underside of the command trailer, then rolled back silently with seconds to spare before one of the sec patrols passed though.

"She done it, boys. Now get to your bikes, prep charges and wait until the watch is all engaged 'fore you start your engine." Hark ordered. And each obeyed, their eyes dilated and red from the dope Danby had lined out for them. The biker meth steeled their aggression and spines.


Randarchist
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--
11/4/2014 12:25 PM

___Fort Geronimo___

The reflected chemical green glow of the Aurora Mexicalis on the salt flat was an almost mirror image to the midnight sky. The sandy and salt infused ground was visible only in the largest of gaps between the crystals. After another wandering episode, Pico was sleeping peacefully from the drugs that Klash had slipped into his dinner. The medkit in the buggy had several boiled down concentrates of painkillers and sleep aids in its stores, Klash chose a tranquilizer powder and sleeping oil combo according to a symptom flip chart in the lid top of the box. The pestle imbedded in the top had hard plastic liners -a mold originally intended for cheap knock offs of American toys - for mixing ingredients. The drug took four minutes to hit the Cuban, freeing Klash to return to the watch.
Another mated pair of mutant scorpions passed near enough to register with the younger scout's sensory hairs, but the neurological impulses did not carry the usually violent intensity that Klash was expecting. They didn't seem to care about avoiding or attacking the camp. The two beasts clambered through the furrowed dunes west and then out of the range of his senses without skipping a beat. Klash soon realized why.
"The salt!" He said to no one but himself.

Klash had avoided looking directly at the refractive light show on the salt flat that surrounded the prewar ruins, but now he turned himself toward the strange outcroppings. He slung his Druganov over his back then loosened his short collar to allow the antennae like hairs at the base of his skull freedom to slowly push out of his black, shoulder length hair. When he let his full senses open to the reflecting auroras, he understood that the lower intensity lights in the night sky were what was allowing a more clear message. The intelligence behind the structures had not meant to cause harm, the heat and overpowered glare was an accident.
The dancing colors swirling on the flats were not the only communication the young man was taking in, his sensor hairs felt a gentle humming recognition of a shared curious nature in the meeting minds. Klash allowed his memories to be browsed, the historical particulars were less important to the entity than the emotions and motivations behind them. It shared with Klash as well. Images and sounds of screaming white coated men and women running through a hallway, fear and panic attacks as a set of thick bullet proof glass doors slam shut. A middle aged man with square glasses carrying a girl child in his arms pushing against the flow, aggression and hope blending in a desperate shove to a frightened group of people into a too small elevator. Relief, the sensation of a quick descent, a sense of urgency to get a security door code entered on a slightly worn keypad.
3-6-2-2.
A room filled with glass cages, feelings of guilt. A powerful resolve to complete the work, insects, beetles, roaches. Centrifuges with vials of transgenic viruses, vials of hope. Klash was able to focus his mind again and filter out some of the noise. He saw a set of hands prepare a hypodermic needle, fill it from a bottle with only a bar code label and inject the frightened nine year old. Through the girl, Klash saw the man smiling in the mannerisms that Juarez medicos were trained, only there were tears in his eyes as he kissed her forehead and told her to lay down in the metal and glass cylinder in the center of the room. Hope and dread weighed on the visions as the man in glasses slid the chamber into a stainless steel sleeve.
Run.
Run for the biomechanical lab.
Hope.
The lab door open. RUN!

The other project, the nano tech. Change, change and survive!

Klash shook with the overflow of emotions as the man with glasses drug a large canister to the elevator. A hallway of weeping souls sitting against the walls, despair and then resignation in most. A few adrenalin rushed soldiers beating against the doors with chairs. The people in the hallway stared at the man with the square glasses in disbelief of his intentions. Anger and shoving blows are exchanged before a series of loud booms, a steel door rolling down just as a blinding flash erupts in the distance outside.

"Do it." The voices sound off.
Protect. We will protect.
Regret.

Hope.
Forgive. Please forgive us.

Klash felt the hand turn the nozzle open. He felt the air warming up as the escaping mist entered the lungs of each man and woman in the crowded hall.
Their bodies burned and itched. The pain was excruciating.
Darkness.
We will protect. Penance.

Klash awoke hours later, the sun was rising. He was still sitting on the hood of the scout buggy. He felt like he had slept in his own bed despite the position he found himself in.
When he turned his attention to the ruins, he saw that the crystals had flattened out and shrunk in size.
"Charging your batteries. I understand." He answered to his own question before it had time to form.
The feeling of connection then closed off.

As Klash stood up to survey the camp site, he saw a trail of footprints leading into the dunes.
Pico was long gone, and nowhere in sight.

Randarchist
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--
11/5/2014 1:30 PM

___Sec Camp___

Light and sound discipline had to be strict for a small camp in the deep deserts of the new Sonora. Mutant and human predators from the northern wastelands constantly raided and migrated into the chemical and biological altered environment. Some of the invaders managed to get to the few remaining native enclaves, but the overwhelming multitude didn't. Their bones littered the desert from the Grande to the sunken Baja coast. Some of the survivors were captured for display -Ville Juarez had a mountain lion with six legs, a pair of runt stickies and some smaller mutant animal breeds in a public zoo- while others were rounded up for study by the scientific and medical staff in their subterranean laboratory beneath the cloverleaf. Max had been there for the medicos to take samples of skin, blood, feces, urine, tears and nail clippings when he started work for Casa Alvarez. The request for a semen sample was withdrawn after the long bodied mutant picked up the scientist by his white lab coat. It was an unfortunate misunderstanding and quickly forgotten by mutual agreement.

The cloudless sky allowed an unobstructed view of the Aurora Mexicalis to the northwest, but it also meant that the camp was less likely to go unnoticed. Max had checked and cleaned his belt fed RPK before he started his patrol. Juarez produced ammo left a lot to be desired when compared to prewar rounds. It was dirty smelling and you had to clean your face and hands as well as your weapon after a fire fight. The powder banged properly, the sec men said, but keep a soap block in your last mag pouch for after. Max carried extra ammo instead of soap. His mostly dark honey skin didn't attract the sooty residue as much as the normal humans he kept company with, the thick armored octagonal scales blocked out all but the worst chemical rains.

All the Gila mutants shared identical traits, the ville scientific team hypothesis stated that the chemical allele which controlled their altered genome was artificial but stabilized the mutagen the tribe were exposed to because of the war between the great powers. There were several tribes of mutants distinct to the northern Mexican territories that had similarly synthetic chromosomal markers in common. The proteins that gifted Max with the protective barrier against the poisoned and acidic environment also afforded him and his people some limited resistance to radiation as well. All of the Gila possessed an extra eyelid that kept sand and dust off their eyes, but only a few expressed prehensile tail in their first few months of development after birth- and fewer still possessed the dexterity to manipulate simple objects with the extra appendage. Max was grateful for his lack of a tail. It was not that those who had tails were considered lesser among the tribe and their human allies in Juarez, it was the fact that the tail made most chairs and wag seats inaccessible. The Motor Chief had to redesign all of the seating in the command trailer to accommodate the few mutants on his salvage crew, and sometimes they got in the way of booted feet if one wasn't careful.
He was also grateful, doubly so at the moment, that everyone in the tribe had a quick ear and eye for details too.

There was a rumble in the sand beneath his bare feet, instantly recognizable as the trampling thud of a lot of feet moving very fast. Max stepped further away from the camp in order to get a bearing on the source of the approaching stampede. Jackalope herd, but one larger than the mutant ever heard his people speak of. It wasn't a few hundred, this herd numbered in the thousands. The horde was closing on the migration path where the team had camped. And the mutant rabbits were definitely in a big hurry to get away from something.
Max heard the thunderous feet and then the echoing "eep, eep, eep" of their terrified screams. He turned back to the camp and fired a single 7.62 round into the air to alert his comrades of the danger.
"Jackalope stampede!" He yelled as loud as he could. "Flares!! Launch flares!"

The sec man in the watch chair atop the shelter pulled the firing pin on the tube launcher, sending a bright green flare high above the raised ground where they had set camp. As Max looked over his shoulder at the hills of sand and rock behind him, it confirmed that the herd easily numbered in the low thousands. The mutant rabbits appeared as a great furry tidal surge flowing over the dunes toward the camp site.
"Get under the wags!" Max commanded the groggy men as they exited the elevated tents. But it was drowned out by the rhythmic cascade of thundering paws on compacted desert soil.

"Get under the wags!"
Rodriguez and Ramone Parker rolled over the sides of their scout buggy and belly crawled underneath it for protection, they didn't need to be told what to do. The same could not be said for the other members of their party. Mike Corona tripped while exiting the shelter he had been resting in, but corrected himself and sprinted towards the light RPK machine gun mount. He hopped cleanly to the gunner station, locked in a 75 round drum and pointed the gun into the oncoming storm of fluffy destruction charging the camp. A couple of the sec team were emboldened by the action, shouldered their AKM assault rifles and opened fire in unison with the brash gunner.
Max dove headlong into the sand, slithering beneath the scout vehicle next to Dawn.
"They are gonna get creamed, Max," The young woman yelled at the mutant, "there's too many!"
"I told them," Max screamed to be heard "but they couldn't hear me!"
Corona was pacing his bursts correctly so as to not overheat the Soviet designed blaster, but all he accomplished was spending precious metal and powder. Ramone scooted to the rear and tried to signal the sec men to stop and take shelter under the armored car, but it was too late. Only the driver, Gomez, had the right idea and crawled under the heavy duty front suspension of the sec wag. The rest of the confused or frightened men had fled away from the jackalope trail in hopes of making it clear of the giant stampede, but the overwhelming numbers in the herd made the effort pointless.

Parker watched them turn and fire defiantly before they were caught in the rush. The first man who stopped to make a stand was simply bowled over, his gurgling cries quickly stomped out of his lungs as one after another the pit bull sized mutants pounded across his body. Ramone winced in empathy as waves of long eared death pounded the poor kid into the dirt.
The other men fared no better in the open. Some died as the first man, pummeled and crushed by the trample. One baby faced guard threw his spent rifle in a final futile gesture in time to be impaled on the twisted horns, the stone hard tips piercing his torso and face before the animal threw him in front of a pouncing wave of its kin.
Mike Corona was splattered with blood as leaping jackalopes impacted the two who had joined him on the back of the escort wag, only the sturdy support post saved him from a large bull jackalope attempting to go over the obstacle. Realizing the impossibility of turning back the giant herd, he slid over the side and rolled into the cover under the rear section. Gomez pulled him forward to the space beneath the front wheels moments before the rear suspension collapsed.

As the unfathomably vast herd thumped and bounded by, the Juarez scouts and the remnants of their now decimated support squad cowered in the dark for safety. The high pitched "eep" of the jackalopes as they passed drowned out any noise that the dying might have made. The dust kicked up by the herd filled the air, causing irritation to eyes and lungs. All of the survivors cursed and coughed as the last stragglers crashed through the battered camp site.

The canvas walls of both shelters were shredded by the razor sharp horns, hanging in limp tatters as dozens of the large beasts jumped in succession. The steel support framed was battered and shook with each impact, punctuated by a panicked "eep". The post mounted RPK on the armored escort was broken after taking a dozen hits from the densely muscled jackalopes. The vehicles were rocked and impacted repeatedly. Fiberglass cracked and Dawn saw a few shattered chips of sparkling red Corvette fender flitter to the ground. The jumping bodies collided midair, one of which landed hard enough to break the Parker wags communications dish from its mountings. Gomez watched helplessly as the bodies were crushed into a paste before he was forced to look away.

The epic herd finally passed, leaving the smashed remains of men and equipment in its wake. Max was the first one to poke his head out to survey the damage.
Everything was smashed, including the wireless array of the escort car.
"Sound of by names!" The mutant yelled into the settling clouds.
"Gomez here!"
"Rodriguez and Parker here!" Dawn called out as she helped Ramone up to his knees.
"Corona here!"

Max pulled himself up onto the scout buggy hood and called for the others, but no answers came. They would have to wait until the air cleared to locate the bodies.
"Parker," Max yelled "you ever seen the likes of this before?"
"No, never, not even in nightmares would I have dreamed such a thing."
"Any idea what caused them to charge like that?"
"Only one thing, Max," Ramone answered as he spit dust from his mouth, "scorpions. Must've caught them sleeping, and when panic set in there was nothing gonna stop them. Nothing any of us could have done..."

"That's not true." It was Mike Corona, from between the wheels on the armored vehicle, "I shouldn't have tried to turn them back like that... and I got both of those men chilled. I did that."
Nobody corrected the admission because nobody disagreed.

A loud pop and flash sent them all diving into cover, drawing weapons as the settling detritus was bathed in an eerie orange glow from above.

"Vasquez here." One quiet voice muttered. The five looked up to see the young sec man still hanging by his harness in the watch chair.
"No. Fucking. Way." Dawn said in disbelief at the pure dumb luck.

Randarchist
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--
11/7/2014 10:37 AM

___Salvage convoy main camp___

Mouse found a flare gun and several surgical scalpels in a white box and an emergency flashlight with a hand crank power generator on the side underneath the cot. The blue plastic had degraded some, but it had an AM/FM radio receiver. She stuffed the radio in the duffel bag Rita had pulled the change of clothing from an hour before. With the radio and a few rolls of bandages, there was enough room for the box of flares as well. Mouse ripped the wax paper wrapping off and loaded the flare gun. Tucking the signaling device into the front of her pants, she stuck her head out the door and waited for a sec man in a khaki shirt and desert camouflaged cargo pants to pass by.

"Señor? Is that right? Its señor, ain't it?" The smiling girl raised her eyebrows and spoke in her best farmers daughter drawl. "Um... Y'all got an outhouse, hon? I don't want to distract y'all, so iffin' you could perty please point it out I'd be mighty grateful."

The guard pointed to the temporary latrines tent a few yards past the crane trailer.
"Thanks, darlin'," she cooed sweetly as she skipped down the slope, duffel bag on her shoulder. "I sure 'preciate y'all."

Hark Danby watched his little actress work her magic con with throbbing admiration.
His men were in position and knew what targets to hit or spare.

Mouse stepped slowly past the latrines at just enough distance to see if any feet were showing under the stretched heavy plastic over aluminum tube doors. The narrow enclosure was divided into individual stalls that shared a plywood and post base that sat six inches above the the ground. Mouse saw no shoes dangling and toes tapping in any of them. She chose the farthest end stall, flipping the latch on the green plastic door after stepping in. She took a scalpel out of the plastic pencil box on top of the loot pile inside the bag and cut a slit down the back panel large enough for her to step through without any hang ups. She sat on the stainless steel seat with the cover down and started pushing the scalpels sideways through the cargo pockets folds for quick access.
As soon as she secured the loot duffel strap across her chest, Mouse stuck her left hand out through the sliced green plastic and waved it up and down three times. The camp had calmed down since the excitement of the faux rescue earlier.


Hark saw the signal and pushed the button on the cylindrical remote. The bandit leader had no idea how long it would take, if the device worked as he had believed, but he felt his anticipation and expectation burning hot in his brain the way gamblers minds heated when betting high stakes. Danby was ready for the big payoff.
"Come on out, you bloodsuckers. Hope y'all like Mexican food." He whispered through a devils grin.

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--
11/8/2014 12:47 PM

Hark Danby and his sociopathic gang of misanthropes had not scouted the mesa before hatching and implementing the plan. Hark just went for it. The gang had suffered the years of grinding their noses on the rock solid fortress ville, and there was a single minded madness that drove their quest for vengeance on the people of Juarez. The last few raids barely subsidized the bikers and it had degenerated their faith in Ol' Jim's successor. Hark couldn't sweat the details, so he faked a zealous fanaticism and just did what he felt Jim would do in the situation. WWJD.
His haste deprived him of a few critical bits of information that might have changed some of the details of his plan. He probably would have placed the gang further out if he'd been aware that the crumbled face of the two mile wide mesa held four migrating colonies of the giant snatch bats. The fissure made by the tectonic chaos following the apocalypse split off a top to bottom column of the sedimentary stone, exposing a natural atrium that had been reshaped and sculpted by human hands thirty centuries before the American/Russian war. The spacious galleries and large communal halls made it a perfect hotel for the migrating giant vampire bats. It also allowed interbreeding for the different familial groups, which contributed to the stabilization of the mutant gene pool.

When the ultrahigh pitched alarm clock went off, it took less than a minute for the sound to reach the hidden city. Hark saw the first irritated occupant flapping out of the crevasse, a black leathery nightmare with a wingspan no less than twenty feet. The sight of the monster bat froze the blood in his veins for a brief moment, and then a second mutant flew out and up from the deep shadows. After a group of five burst out into the night, the jagged face of the mesa erupted with a stream of black flapping rage.
"Oh, shit, Sam..." Hark looked to his right hand man. "There are hundreds of 'em."
The bandit stared at his leader and asked "You knew, right?"
Hark blanked for a half second and replied, "Yeah, course I knew! Shut up, Sam. Be ready to go pick up Mouse and bring her right back here when I tell ya."
Hark Danby was fighting twice as hard as before to keep up the poker face, he knew that he had bet way too much.

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--
11/9/2014 12:29 AM

Mouse peeked out of the sliced heavy plastic wall in time to see Rita standing at the convoy perimeter. She had a black finished AKM slung over her shoulder and was wearing a desert khaki military cap now, her back to the latrines. Mouse slid quietly as possible through the slit, palmed a scalpel in her right hand and crept slowly behind the foot patrolling medic. Rita turned left slightly, but Mouse side stepped right and stayed in the blind spot until she was within ten yards. The cold heart relaxed her shoulders and pinched her fingers on the razor sharp blade in her cupped hand.
"Hey, Rita. "
Mouse was already into the step. As the raven haired medic turned, the swing was half executed. Rita had time to see the faux refugee smiling as the fingers released the metal missile.
The scalpel point squished cleanly into Rita's left eye, causing her body to drop straight to the dirt. She was paralyzed and unable to stop staring at the starlit sky. She could hear Mouse looting her body but felt nothing, could do nothing.

Mouse noticed the tears streaming from the eye.
"You're one lucky girl. You know that?"
Rita heard but could not express her disagreement.
"You are, baby girl!" Mouse said, leaning into Rita's frozen viewpoint. "You ain't gonna feel what comes next. Hell, you might even escape gettin' chilled."
Mouse wiped up a tear with her finger.
"Not that you'll probably want to, seeing how you're gonna be a little brown potato from here on. You know what I mean?"
She leaned in and kissed Rita on the brow.
"Look, you can keep that scalpel. I got enough to spare. Besides, getting it back would end it for you... and I like you, Rita. I couldn't have done it without you and made out so well. So, thanks for the clothes, and the fancy guns and knives... oh, and thanks for your boots. I put your sandals on your feet for you, so good lookin' out. Bye hon."

Rita could hear the steps moving away, but saw only stars and the few small clouds over her head. Her tears ran down to wet her hair, but there were no sensations.

Rita started loosing her anger. She experienced a moment of calm. A black silhouette flew over her head, but it passed through her fixed field of vision too quick. Another dark shape passed far over her head.

Rita herd a man scream from what felt no more than 50 yards away. The anger returned, but in a different hue than before. She was angry at herself. She heard another scream and the first eruption of automatic weapons firing. She screamed and fought in her mind, but there was no getting around what her medical knowledge told her. She knew the path the blade had taken, but couldn't put the right words into place in her mind. She saw. She heard. Rita only imagined what the sounds meant, but recognized some voices between the rattling machine guns of a ball turret, then two. The smell of blood was recognized, but in amounts greater than she wanted to imagine.

She heard the tearing of metal, one ball turret ceased barking, then what sounded like a giant flag flapping in a strong wind. Puffs of dust and the stench of ammonia. The sky started to move, then her vision rolled to the right. Rita had a sideways view of the rock and pebble covered ground. The view moved again, dragging her gaze further into the sparse surroundings outside of the convoy ring.

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11/9/2014 1:43 PM

Simon Alvarez leaned down and rolled into his cubicle bunk. The seven long by three feet wide bunk afforded enough head room to sit, but the Motor Chief was done with that for the day. His joints ached from too many hours of sitting in a chair. He was a more hands on leader in style than other heads of ville industry. He had to share two machine presses with the Hadron weapon smiths, Casa Guzman communication techs and then there were the Sanchez community projects. It was a very imperfect system of time sharing, but it kept people who had skills going and gave the people of the ville a much healthier life than those miserable revenants to the North.
The cubicle walls were aluminum gray riveted panels. The Motor Chief hung his PM-63 on a set of squarish wall hooks and laid his head back on the pillow. The refugee Hector Munoz rescued was squared away until morning, Simon would give her the options after breakfast.
He closed his eyes, they still hurt from monitor glare.
Sleep.


The camp had calmed, but the watch patrols kept a steady eye on the scrubland at the perimeter cast by the campfires. The coyotes must have cleared out, most animals wanted nothing to do with a large band of humans. Sec men with guns back lit by camp glow were barely visible to the bikers surrounding the circular on ramp, who were busy enough prepping pipe bombs for when all hell broke loose. The majority had torches ready to set, but nearly a third had scavenged Bic or cheaper cigarette lighters in the pockets of their vests and jackets for the festivities to come.
Sam, Hark Danby's right hand man, knelt next to his Harley sport bike looking for the retrieval signal from his boss. He wasn't as droolie stupid as everybody in the gang thought, everyone except Hark and Mouse anyway. Sam had no desire to be gang Prez, that's why his boss put the large man in such a position of trust to begin with. Sam knew he wasn't a leader smarts man, but he had enough brains to follow orders.
Sam stared from the shrub cover as one of the sec patrolmen walked his beat. The desert camouflage and khaki uniform matched the theme of his fellows. Sam smiled at the thought of getting his hands on one of the sturdy AKM assault blasters, or even the well maintenance Makarov pistols that the ville sec carried their hip holsters. His own Colt Navy revolver was a prewar replica, but six shots was a limitation he hoped to overcome soon as Hark let the gang take their spoils.

Sam heard the flapping that Hark told him to expect, glanced skyward and nearly rabbited for the hills as a mass of dark brown to black wings went over his head on a direct line at the big armored box trailer with the twin RPK mounted ball turrets. Sam turned his attention back to the sec man between him and the convoy ring in time to witness the fury unleashed by the device Mouse had smuggled onto the armored command trailer. A snatch bat ,with a wing span of no less than twenty feet in width, dropped feet first onto the guard as he was reaching down to his belt canteen. As soon as the man started to scream, the thirteen inch wide mouth of the mutant vampire bat clamped around his head and neck, muffling the yelp as it tore the head from the body. Spitting the capped head to one side, the giant took the neck into its mouth and gorged on the hot blood pouring from the ragged stump coming up from the torso. Sam tried not to move a muscle, hoping that he didn't attract any of the descending swarm.

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11/10/2014 12:18 AM

There were a few minutes of blissful nothing for Motor Chief Alvarez, his muscles were relaxed and joints decompressed, before the shooting startled him back to the horrors of the deep desert. He rolled out of his cubicle bed with his PM-63 in hand. The machine pistols were designed originally for vehicle crews, the Cuban weapon smiths had told, and commando elites. Simon Alvarez was definitely NOT a commando. He was the best mechanic in the ville and a talented fabricator, but his combat skills were scraping the bottom of average. Before he was able to stand, the trailer was rocked by a series of impacts- he counted seven.
"What's..." Was all the Motor Chief was able to say before the explosive chatter of twin RPK turret guns cut him off.

The communication and monitor systems were fritzing, but the mechanicals of the mobile command center guns were holding true for the time being. Venus Delgado was manning the command station, flipping power switches off then on in an attempt to reset the bashed together control systems. It wasn't working out for her. Chief Alvarez stumbled to her side and yelled for his seat. When she stood, the trailer was once again impacted. The RPK's paused only seconds for cooling.
"Take the other gun! Go!" Simon ordered. The woman nodded once and ran to the inner facing turret. It would take precious seconds to get the door open, climb in and get the twin machine guns fire ready. Simon dove in under the control desk and started turning the knob locks to remove the access panel.

The dual turrets roar thundered with the chattering of RPK and AKM automatic fire in the camp. The trailer rocked again, only with enough force to smash the front from the ball turret that the Motor Chief had sent Delgado to station.

A moment later the computers rebooted, but it was too late. Already the deafening gun fire was giving way to a chorus of death cries. The trailer thumped again and sparks showered from the power controls. The outside facing turret kept barking, so the terrified Motor Chief kept working. When the short range radio came back online, the external camera system followed. Simon Alvarez turned around to see the blood blasted inner half of the damaged turret.
He put the radio headset over his ears, but the black and white image on the monitor told him enough.
"Mother of God.... no."

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11/10/2014 9:21 PM

Even when things turned out good for Hark Danby, there was always some kind of karmic bitch slap soon after. He was bored by the ville life as a boy, so he considered it a lucky break at the age of thirteen when he landed a job with a well heeled scavenger crew. It was a great life, he was skinny enough to fit into the closest spaces. Two years of fighting off rats and mini mutant freaks in the rubble piles had him living with some style. The downside came on a winter crossing of a crumbling rail bridge. Hark was sent across alone, tied to a rope, to see if it was safe. When the group got halfway over the twisted structure, a horde of slobbering, fuzz covered stickies came swinging up the deteriorating supports. The gibbering mutants fell on his friends and coworkers and there was nothing he could do to save them. The gummy slime on their feet and palms was more thick in the cold, but they peeled the scavengers like onions- layer by excruciating layer- to the bones. Since they had all of the loot, Hark truly lost everything he had. His life became a series of repeating adventures: make new friends, kill stuff, scavenge loot, watch friends die at the fangs/claws/acidic farts of the mutie of the week and start over. When he met Ol' Jim and was recruited to ride for the Paso Park trailer ville, he figured the road gang was the turn in his luck. It wasn't long after that Ville Juarez was discovered by one of their raiding parties and started the slow whittle down of the membership. Tonight, he realized, it was his own karmic hammer that put the last nail in the coffin.
As he watched the black winged mutant bats stream across the camp, he felt his confidence level out at rock bottom. It was too much, there were too many for the armed camp to fight off. His heart started pounding hard enough to make his head throb. The device remote in his left hand, he forgot about his ability to turn it off. He could only lay there under his road blankets on the sandy scrubs and watch the flock of predators dismantle the convoy crews and their armed protectors bite by skull removing bite. His pants got a little warmer and wetter when he saw the gang members, who he thought would be safe in the shadows near the light perimeter, were getting head snatched too. It brought back an old memory of scavenged juice packets he'd found on one of his scavenger outings, the kind where you had to stab the straw through a divot on the top... except the juice boxes were people with necks for straws.
"Oh fuck me!" He exclaimed when he remembered the remote control. Hark flipped power switch to turn the ultrasonic dinner bell off, but it was far too late. Already the snatch bats had zeroed in on the source of the painful siren. A group of the larger adults, early a dozen, were battering into the ball turret covering the camp core. It took down a fair number as it thundered deafeningly with its twin on the opposite side, but that only made the enraged beasts focus their efforts on getting at the tasty morsel inside. They pried and tore away the outer half of the sphere, dragging the gunner out by her legs. Her white buttoned down shirt streaked with red as one of the beast tore her head off and feasted on the juices spurting from the neck. Three other crew from the trailer tried to make a run for the scout buggies parked across from the door they exited from, sub machine guns blazing at full auto. They were loading fresh magazines in a perfectly timed rotation while they moved, stepping as one unit, covering the next as he or she reloaded. Hark could see how these people had taken down the Paso gang now. They fought like a pack of wolves, like hero soldiers in old action vids, but it wasn't enough. They were almost to the desert outfitted wag when they ran out of mags for the stubby machine blasters, so they pulled out their pistols and knives. A pile of eight bats dropped onto them, and that was the end of the line.
Only one thing mattered to the ville malcontent turned scav turned road ganger, getting out of this feeding frenzy with his head still attached. Or, so he thought, until he spotted Sam pop up on his sport Harley with Mouse sitting reverse saddle on the back. The blonde haired evil imp was firing flares at what appeared to be the mother of all snatch bats. Hark pocketed the remote and rose up to draw his 1911 model .45 handgun. He flipped the safety and took aim. He would wait for the right angle and only squeeze the trigger when he knew that the shot would not hit the girl.
The bike had been crisscrossing to avoid the triple huge mutie, the flares streaking by the monster gave it plenty reason to dodge, but it was only putting off the chill that was about to come. Hark exhaled and inhaled, held his breath. The shot lined up and he fired off a single round. The .45 caliber bullet cracked loudly and hit the bullseye.

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11/11/2014 10:37 AM

___The remnants of the Rescue Party camp___

Dawn Rodriguez and Ramone Parker surveyed the damage to the wags with Gomez. The scout buggy could be field repaired, but the armored escort car was beyond repair. The sec team would have to ride on the top and rear using their harnesses to tether themselves for the long haul. Max was aided by Vasquez and Mike Corona in taking an inventory of the weapons that weren't crushed by the trampling jackalope herd.
There was one RPK light machine gun with 280 belted rounds in the ammo backpack, with another seventy or so in a box magazine. Three AKM with four full magazines each. And enough Makarov pistols salvaged for all, ten full magazines of 9 mm Makarov bullets for each.
After setting up a makeshift sleeping platform from the two wrecked shelters, they divided the weapons. Corona would take the RPK/backpack rig, with Gomez covering him with an AKM while helping carry two heavy belts and box mag. Max had his spear and his Makarov. Parker and Vasquez were assigned the other two AKM's, and a pistol. Dawn opted to take a pair of the Russian handguns. At first light, they would try to get across the sea of dunes between them and the salvage site in the battered scout buggy. The short range was now useless, probably from magnetic interference and bad weather Max and Ramone agreed.
There was a moment when Max thought he heard thunder, but it was too distant to worry about as yet.

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11/11/2014 12:26 PM

___Ville Juarez___

Before the war between the great powers, Juarez was a thriving city that had sixteen local broadcast television channels. The city boasted more than forty AM and FM radio stations. The reclaiming effort managed to build a working communication system in the top floor of the Ville Juarez government building. While El Paso took a nuke strike which destroyed the northern edge of old Juarez and the three connecting bridges between the cities, the extreme lower end of old Juarez had minimal damage and radiation thanks to weather and relatively good fortune. The other atomic tipped warheads hit off target north and east of the border, but in a line that carved out a two hundred mile long canyon of still irradiated shattered craters between the binational metropolis' northern and southern ends. The surviving population on the southern most Mexican end was besieged by a Russian biological weapon. The desperate and frightened refugees fled to the south, circumnavigating the rad blasted capitol and population centers of the state of Chihuahua, led along back routes and off road by a police captain and his officers to a remote ranch laden valley in Durango owned by a drug lord named Juan Pablo Milagros.
It is said that the cartel leader and his people were remarkably happy to see the SUV, jeep and APC police convoy. The valley was spared the radiation, but not the chaos. The police captain and the drug lord made a pact with the survivors, a majority of which had been skilled auto workers, for the sake of survival. There were paramedics, engineers and a small group of scientists from a joint US/Mexican lab that had joined up during the journey.
The educated class were tasked with preserving and passing on their knowledge by hand writing it all out; when they were not busy making those skills useful, that is. Some died, leaving unfinished volumes on biology, electrical engineering and mechanics. Others, the American lab managers, deliberately omitted their specialized knowledge from the encyclopedic texts being compiled. These volumes still sat on the shelves in the steel barn converted into a library at the Durango ranch ville, but copied versions were taken along when the bulk of the descendants were forced by the last Baron of the Milagros family line into the dangerous task of reclaiming the southern end of the sand covered lost city. But it was the personal diaries of the scientists that Baron Don Eduardo Hadron had his three archivists searching for any and all references to Fort Geronimo.

"Is there anything, ANYTHING, that gives a clue about what the Americans were doing there?" He begged of the scholar in the brown vest and silver framed bifocals.
"No, my lord," the bookworm said, shamefully bowing his bald head, "not yet. My apologies..."
"Damn your groveling, man. Just keep looking." The worried father was showing the signs of fatigue. Communication had ceased, and when the motorcycle scouts were sent to check out the electronic relays, they returned to report that bikers of the Paso bandit gang had smashed the housings. One of the bikers had been captured; but he only spit a steady stream of curses and bigoted epitaphs when questioned by the elite STaR interrogation officers of the ville.
"My baron," a young woman in a jacket with leather elbow patches called out with raised hand, "I found something that might be useful."
"Well?? What, my dear lady, does it say?" The baron was red faced and looked as cross as she had ever seen.

"It's a letter from one of the doctors... It says, 'Dearest Carol, I pray every day that Saint Gerome's has survived in spite of the mushroom cloud that we saw from across the border. I beg that you and the others forgive us for not coming. I was voted down by Doctor Hammond and the others. Our Mexican Army escorts insist upon joining a police contingent we ran into after we abandoned the new lab south of Juarez. Every time the earth shakes, the only thought I have is for you. Are you safe in the testing bunker beneath the medical center? Has it too been destroyed by the bomb, or collapsed by the earthquakes? Not knowing your fate is too much for me. I don't want to live like this.
The Captain assures us that the prisoner he rescued from his jail is a valued member of the cartel whose compound we are trying to reach, a cousin of the drug lord. They both claim that the remote stronghold should be a safe haven, but already we have seen barbarism and anarchy in this aftermath. I still don't know what or who started the war.Damn them! Damn us! Whoever! It doesn't matter now. I don't care. I only know that our work played into the arms race, and my shame grows more painful. Already, insects with deformity are appearing. I wonder if our mutagens are responsible, if the viral agents are responsible for the mutations that have appeared in the month since the war. Hammond and Marquez's constant obfuscation of what kind of doctors we really are has only added to the mistrust and blame that our Mexican friends are feeling towards us, rightfully so. I have taken sick, it feels like I deserve whatever this disease does...' The rest is a lot of descriptive about the journey and more apologies for abandoning this Carol and then he writes 'I hope that Maria and the other test children are in your and Angelo's care, and I pray that something from your work on gene expression will spare their lives in the hell that we helped create.'. That's all there is, my baron." Then the woman sat down and put the letter to the side of the three ring binder it came from.

"Marvin, report, do we have any bikes that could make it to the fort and..." Eduardo Hadron lost his words.

"No, Don Eduardo." the older Don answered. "The only vehicles capable of making the trip are all with my Simon and the convoy. There is nothing to do but wait and pray."

"I understand. Then we will send ten bikes to your son, we can rescue him at least."

"I'm sorry, my friend. I will not send them, not even for my own son. Too many dangers surround us and we need them to be our eyes. Bandit saboteurs attacked our listening posts with improvised explosives, and the fall magnetic storms have come early... the radio channels are all static once you go a mile from the walls. All of our resources are stretched to their limit." Don Alvarez said with the weight of loss in his voice.

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11/11/2014 3:13 PM

___The Convoy Camp___

Sam looked over his shoulder for any kind of signal from Hark, but saw only dried brush and cactus forks where his Prez was watching from. He was sure good at ambush, Sam thought, just follow orders. The thirty-one year old biker was a full six years older than his boss, but he gave total loyalty to the only man besides Ol' Jim who didn't talk to him like a child. He used to get picked on by the other guys, and most of the women, before Prez Danby made them stop by decree. He could even get laid free in the gaudy trailers in Paso Park. Hark gave him the big responsibility, which triple plussed his feeling of importance, of keeping the double wide Prez trailer orderly. Hark and Mouse were always in the master suite anyway, so it was not too much cleaning. There was a solar system on top to charge the battery set for the swag lamps come dark, and a PlayStation with kids games that Ol' Jim had scored for Mouse when she was a little girl. Mouse gifted it to Sam when he started and told him he could play in the afternoon after his important duties were completed. Sam loved his bosses, and they treated him good. There was nothing he wouldn't do for them.
That's why he didn't hesitate to kick on his "hog" and run straight and fast when he saw Mouse waving her arms. The meth Hark gave him made him feel a strange calm despite the nightmares he was watching moments before.
"Plan change, Mouse!" He yelled, but the noise of the bike and all the guns going off drowned his attempt.

Mouse ran to the bike and rider backwards while firing at the juvenile snatch bats that were chasing her. She had never fired an AKM before, but was getting the hang of it quickly. She emptied the magazine clipping their wings right as Sam pulled up. Mouse slung the newly stolen weapon across her back and drew a flare gun from under her shirt. Sam shut off the engine to tell her the news.
"Hark said change of plan, bring you back!"
"No shit." Mouse laughed as she reverse straddled the rear of the seat. "Go, Sam! You done great! Go!"


The squeal of the juvies alerted a very large elder bat, who closed fast on the two humans zig zagging through the scrubland on their machine. The human on the back leaned well with the turns to stay upright. As the great mother bat got almost close enough to bite into the skinny blood bag, the human held a cylinder in the air that sent a bright green fireball toward her face. The burning star of blinding light hit right between her eyes. Searing pain sent her head first into the dirt, but she was up and giving chase in a few heart beats. The cylinder wielding human was doing something with its hands. The elder female swooped down from higher angle, this time going feet first to the desert sand when the humans slowed and then turned in another direction. She was airborne and flapping her great wings faster, level to the ground and gaining speed.
The noise of the feeding colony and the thunder of the prey fighting back filled the air. She hated the stink of the weapons these things used, especially the burning smoke that the skinny human fired at her again. This ball of burning pain missed but forced her to pull up, robbing her of the momentum. She circled wide this time. There was a third human, the prey was going toward it, who had been hidden before. As she closed, the new human pointed a hand at the others and something boomed loudly. The larger human on the front of the noisy machine jerked and fell over. The blood smell came, strong and hot. The new one jumped on the machine as the skinny one turned around. The machine roared once again and left the human who was bleeding from the skull. It was not going to be wasted on the dry rocks, the snatch bat decided to take the meal for her troubles. The skinny one didn't have enough blood to feed an adult anyway. It was the humans problem now, let that foolish one dodge the fireballs from the poor meal. The heart of the fallen one beat still, its body was hot and healthier than most of the humans at the edge of this herd.

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11/12/2014 11:44 AM

Hector Munoz and Jen Gutierrez were bunked in a tent with four other ville security men, and the two women in Sanchez brown cover alls who had operated the digging machine to dig the camp latrines. The steel tube supports crisscrossed through pinned in brackets. The stacked bunks were sturdy steel rebar and canvas construction, held tight and secure to the corner posts by the same bracket and pin system that kept the heavy duty shelter together. There were thick plastic sheets with closure snaps on the outside walls and roof, in case of acid rain. The green bulb in the hooked in shop lamp cast a dim glow to see around, but it didn't keep anyone awake. It shed enough light for Hector to clean the AKM, it got a bit sooty when he rescued the farm girl from the two dirty savages earlier. It wasn't too bad, but Hector knew how the ville ammo could stink up a weapon. After a few days, the carbons and pig fat smells would build up and cause jams in the action. Hector preferred his .38 cal S&W police side arm and scavenged prewar rounds to the 9 mm pistols that the ville issued to sec men and work crews. The revolver was a simple design compared to the slick looking Soviet guns, a lot easier to maintain and clean.
Jen had been the one he hauled to the Big Garage the night before, he recognized her now. She wore a patch on her sleeve of a ball turret gunner, and that won his respect instantly. It took a lot cajones to climb into those death traps, Hector knew. He smiled and nodded, then reassembled the cleaned and oiled AKM as quiet as possible before bedding down. Jen was already asleep like the others. Hector soon followed. The canvas had enough leg room to really stretch out. Hector slept face down, his legs and ass were sore from the long hours of driving. He felt a few twitching cramps, but it took only a minute for it to stop.

The rest was short lived.


Twenty minutes? A half hour? Jen could not tell how much time had passed- she was hard sleeping when the booming AKM's of the Juarez camp started exploding from one side to the other- but she knew it wasn't enough. The four sec men left her and the scout driver to look out for the two construction workers, who were only packing the industrial orange handled model Makarov. Hector was quick, AKM ready and kneeling in front of a closed window flap. Jen got her act together quick, shouldering hers to cover the door.
"What's going on, scout?" Jen demanded of the only person in the tent with perspective on the fight.
Hector wore the mask of a funeral mourner, the flashes of the inward facing turret gun reflected on his wide cheekbones.
"Don't move, don't speak," he said only loud enough, his eyes revealed the seriousness of the situation, "and do NOT fire your weapons or we are dead."
Hector pulled the chem shields and drew the three women slowly to the center of the diamond cut pattern paint dipped aluminum center board. He put his finger up to point at the blankets on the bunks. He nodded and grabbed it, gesturing toward them. They quietly pulled the blankets, one of the Sanchez workers started to tear up because the screams between the auto fire told her who was winning. The scout took the blankets one at a time and hung them on the eight cross sections that met at the center pos of the boxy shelter.
"We have to try not to be seen, or heard, or smelled." Hector explained the rules. "Calm down, sweat has a smell like fear. They can smell blood, piss and your body odors. We all had showers?"
The women nodded the affirmative. Hector sniffed their hair quickly and then produced a leather pouch about the size of a deck of cards.
"I grew up in Durango, in Rancho Ortega, our ancestors called them Camazotz. We have a few weeks of the year when snatch bats come. Never this many, it's as if every one in all of Mexico has arrived. We burn the powder from ammo with this, equal parts." He said as he pulled out a clay incense burner with a plastic bag full of dried plant leaves.
"Is that sage?" The teary eyed woman asked as she wiped her cheeks.
"Si, and dried guano from the iguana farms. It will mask our scents." Hector almost spoke too loudly, one of the ball turrets took the last train west with the gunner right behind. The gunfire decreased by the time he dumped a handful of the herbs into the burner. The screams continued, the other turret barking still and then there was the smell of blood finally growing strong enough to be noticed in with the filthy gun powder smoke.
Hector pulled a pair of ringed tools from the pouch next and used it to carefully twist open bullets from the canvas ammo bag over his shoulder. It didn't take many.
He produced a purple and white lighter with a faded sticker from his pants pocket.
Setting the plate next to the post, Hector waved the women closer.
"Take a deep breath and hold it until I say." He said before inhaling deeply. The lighter flicked twice before the little blue and yellow flame appeared. He touched a piece of paper, which flashed briefly and ignited the mixture.

The herbs and powder burned quickly, sending up a billowing grayish white cloud. Their eyes watered at the irritating smoke and the smell of the sage stuck strongly. After ten long seconds, the Durango born scout opened the blanket wall before exhale.
Jen wiped her eyes with a finger.
"We don't go out unless they come in. We stay silent, we live."

The last ball turret ceased thundering. A few moments later they heard the flapping more than the guns. There was what sounded like a motorcycle approach, but the rider must have turned back upon seeing the massacre going on.

The automatic gunfire stopped soon after, only a few pistol shots and AKM bursts interrupted the death cries. Then there were only flapping noises, liquid sounds. The wind carried the smell of battle away, leaving the stench of blood to fill the the night air.

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11/12/2014 10:26 PM
The monitors screens shook in time to the twin RPK's beat. Motor Chief Alvarez took in the flickering images. He saw the expedition crew and escorts being torn apart, heads from shoulders. He recognized the foes. He had hunted and killed them before, when his father took him to Rancho Alvarez as a teenager. It was the unbelievable number of the mutants that shook his courage. There were just so many!

There was a report he had read in the baronial almanac, published on wood pulp paper in newspaper format on a museum piece press, that a team of three neo-biologist from the small Durango ranch villes had done a study three seasons ago. Based on trader reports and iguana rancher accounts, they theorized that there might be a few colonies of thirty or more that migrated from the western Yucatán up to as far northeast as what was once the U.S. /Mexican border. Nobody had witnessed anything close to what was playing out on live feed vid. Simon saw a few scout buggies being picked apart by the swarming mutants, the poor souls inside torn limb from limb by the feasting monsters. The left side turret was drowning out the screaming when it roared, the camera showed bats swooping into the rolling path of fire torn open as the twin RPK's unzipped their thick fur.
The feed from the right side CCTV system had been mostly cut, save for the front right view. Simon could extrapolate from what he saw well enough. He watched the Juarez fighters run out from shelters, guns blazing at the overwhelming giant snatch bat hordes, only to get pummeled by the diving predators dropping on them from the dark desert sky. He saw their courageous last stands, and their terrified faces as the large maws closed around their heads. He pushed the send button on the short range comms mic.
"Get out of here, get to a wag, just go! Anyway you can!" He announced over the convoy general channel. Then he turned to the two trailer crew that were loading ammo for the turret guns. "Who's in the bird cage?"
"The new guy from the Sanchez gates, Gutierrez, Chief." The young man answered.
"Jimenez, right?" The Motor Chief walked swiftly to him and started pounding on the turret door. "Hold fire, Gutierrez! Hold fire! Out, now!"

The man in the turret stomped the pedal lock and leaned the seat back, Alvarez and the crew tech helped pull the gunner out.
"Here, take my gun. Take it!" The Chief said, shoving the black PM-63 into his hands. "Trade ya, brother. Look, squeeze once lightly for burst firing and hold tight for full auto. You gotta cover one another, burst fire only, and get to the scout wag in front of us. It looks undamaged. Get back to Juarez, don't stop to rest until you get there. I'm going to cover you from the turret, use my line of fire to get out." Simon handed the gunner his magazine pouches. "Go!"

The two crewmen and the wall sec gunner, their weapons at the ready, stood in front of the exit. "Tell my father that I'm sorry." He added before throwing open the door.

As soon as they were out, he slammed it shut and sprinted to the ball turret. It wasn't easy for him to get his chubby frame through the door. He didn't bother with the safety harness, just in case he had to get out. His foot flipped up the lock brake pedal and began firing at the snatch bats, it was hard to miss so many. He could hear the bursts from the three PM-63 RAK's, the higher pitch 9mm Makarov rounds chatter was unmistakable with the louder, deeper report of the 7.62×39mm cartridges of the RPK and AKM that the sec men and scouts were issued before the convoy left home. The Motor Chief could tell by the sounds that they were executing his instructions with precision timing.
He could tell they were close to their goal, so he leaned back to get a peep at the camera feed. They only had about ten yards to go. He felt like it had been worth it, if they made it. A pair of leathery wings wrapped around the front of the turret, Simon turned his head in time to hit the triggers as the monster tried to bite down on the RPK. The head exploded with blood and teeth flying as the light machine guns tore through the brains and thick boney skull.
"Yeah! Come and get some!" The chubby mechanic howled with delight. His celebration cut short when he leaned forward in the bubble. He saw the trio pulling their pistols and boot knives.
"No," he screamed at the bats as he tried to walk his fire to cover them, but they wete just out of reach. "come after me, you bloodsucker mutie freaks!"
He could see the dog pile cover the three in mere seconds, knew that they were lost.

Alvarez pushed the triggers and strafed the few bats in his view. Then there was a shrill squeal of metal behind him. They tore away the door and were trying to fit through the narrow entry. Simon drew his Makarov and started firing from the turret hatch as a juvenile tried to squeeze into the trailer. The 9mm bullets punched neat holes in the nose, eyes and head of the blood thirsty mutant, spraying gore on the electronic panel behind it. It did not dissuade the half dozen that came in behind it. He slumped down into the chair and pulled the hatch closed. He had one round in his front pocket. It had been stamped by his own hand with the letters 'VCD'. He pulled it loaded it into his pistol magazine and chambered the special round. The young bats were trying to open the round cage up, but they had not nearly the strength needed.
He could smell ammonia in their fur, the fetid blood on their breath.
He started to pray for forgiveness, for his past sins and the one he was considering now.

He put the barrel to his forehead.
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--
11/13/2014 1:14 PM

The crack of the .45 made Mouse jump. She felt Sam jerk behind her, his body sliding off the bike. Her legs compensated for the weight of the bike while she turned her head to the right. Hark Danby holstered his Model 1911.
"I'm sorry, Sam." The bandit said as he straddled the bike. "I truly am."

Mouse turned around once her Prez had the sport bike secure. She looked down at the wound Sam took. "Oh, baby! That was so sweet of you, he won't even know the way you brained him. You're a kind heart, Harker Danby."

The bullet had done an effective lobotomy, Sam had left the building. Hark kicked the engine over as Mouse admired the shot one last time. "I'll miss you, Sam."

The bike took off as Mouse glanced over her shoulder. The angry snatch bat took the sacrifice, breaking its pursuit to feed on the blood pumping from the big heart in Sam's chest. A heart so big that he would have volunteered to be the bait, she figured, but Hark didn't want the man to suffer. That was a hard call, and she was glad that her man was hard enough to make it. It made her love him more.
The Harley sped away, with Mouse wrapping her arms around the hips of its driver. His stomach felt warm to her hands, and she couldn't help the arousals stirring in her as the bike engine growled beneath her seat. She kissed his shoulder and bit his leather jacket. Her fingers crossed his pelvis and then felt along his fly.

"Baby," she yelled over the engine noise, "did you piss your jeans?"
Hark didn't skip a beat in answering, "Yeah, to throw off the muties from our scents."
"Of course! Want I should do it too?"
"No! No, darlin'. I think we shook 'em off good."

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--
11/13/2014 5:54 PM

In the claustrophobic confines of the ball turret, Simon heard the metal mountings of the trailer walls popping. Riveted panels groaned and creaked, reverberating inside the mobile command center. Within the bouquet blending of ammoniated body odor and blood tainted halitosis from the bats, the chemical smell of burning plastics rose slowly to prominence. The juvenile and young adult bats had done a real number on the electronics racks of repurposed prewar home computers and televisions. The radio system was severed from the power grid when the passenger side turret was torn in half. The Motor Chief wasn't too worried about the fire, the fire retardants in the overhead pipes were run on a segregated power supply. The invading mutants, however, soon picked up on the scent.
The three snatch bat juvies stopped picking on the turret when sparks turned to flame, their fearful screeches crying out as the first licks of fire started peaking from the control panels behind them. The large adults outside started flapping about, ramming the hung plate armor from outside. Simon started to smile.
"Yes, come get your kids before they cook!" The chubby mechanic and engineer warned."What kind of parents are you? Don't you hear..."

Chief Alvarez stopped when he saw the black talons of a pair of bats tapping and scratching the edge of the turret oculus.
"The mounts! Hold on, let me pull them!" He yelled through the steel vent next to the twin RPK light machine guns. "Why am I talking to bats? Santos on the ropes!"
Simon pulled out a ratchet from his belt and a socket set that he had in the right side cargo pocket of his desert camouflage pants. He leaned the gunners chair back and crouched with his lower back and rear jammed against the birdcage front. There was a bolted down steel plate with yellow and black diagonal line paint at the chair base. The juvenile mutants were pushing one another to get to the door as the smoke and vapors from the cooking electronics irritated their eyes and noses. The colony adults tore at the antenna recesses and vent covers on the roof, smashed the armored trailer and started to tear open the seams of the rectangular enclosure. Simon found the right socket for the bolts and put his considerable strength to the ratchet. The bolt gave and he it had out in only a couple of seconds, moving on to the second one immediately. That moment, the heat from the smoldering media racks set off the fire alarm and suppression system. The foam rained out all sides of the old elementary school sprinkler heads sticking down from the ceiling pipes. The young snatch bats stopped squealing for a whole two seconds, about the same time that Simon had pulled the danger striped cover plate free. The chem and soapy bath made the trapped mutant adolescents shriek in deafening disapproval.
"Relax! I got this!" He assured them.

The red tag on the steel ring was crumpled up as the Chief wrapped his fingers around it. Simon got his other chubby hand into the exit assist bar and pulled with all of his might. The thick mountings around the turret all released with a loud ping. The ball slid and squeaked slightly, every bat on the roof and drivers side of the ravaged trailer scrambled over one another get at it.
"Ok... Ok, take it easy! Pull the ball out! Pull the ball out, yes!" He could have sworn some part of them understood he was trying to help them. He really hoped that they did.
A group of four big elder female bats gathered around the turret and grabbed the edges of the trailer walls, a full grown male -it had wings that Simon guessed were bout twenty five feet from tip to tip- dropped onto the turret, clamping its clawed feet through the gun ports. As the the big male used his great leathery wings to pull up, the even larger female snatch bats shoved the ball until it flipped off its attachments and rolled out from the wall.
"Wait! I'm not strapped in!" Simon pleaded in the chair, bracing himself just before the turret went face down onto the wind exposed highway ramp with a loud thud. The impact threw him from the chair, but he held on to the head supporter with his arms. The shifting weight sent the spherical birdcage rolling out, a few feet away from the trailer where the juvie monsters came blundering from the hole. One of the younger bats crashed into the ball turret with enough force to send it spiraling over the edge of the raised ramp, its occupant cursing angrily as it rolled down the steep slope and into the dark desert night.

The colony stomped around on the the bodies, pushing blood from headless necks and torn off limbs. The juveniles who had been in the trailer rolled and bathed in the last squeezings of life. The camp was strewn with decimated corpses and wrecks of the vehicles, some of the frightened salvage team and scouts tried to hide from the enraged giants. The colony of snarling mutants left a few tent shelters standing, one of which had four terrified survivors crouching behind a barrier of smoking herbs and expertly hung blankets, as it took wing to return to the lost city hidden in the mesa crevasse. Their flapping take offs kicked up a cloud of dust and other particles, like a fog billowing up all around at once. In minutes, the last stragglers were following save for the largest of the females.


The great mother of the colonies picked her claws along the underside edge of the destroyed rectangular box. She remembered the spot where the painful sounds came from, she was able to sense where it was when the colony arrived. The screaming stopped shortly after. There it was, her talon picked it out of the hiding spot and it lay on the ground. The great mother slapped it away in disgust, sending the wretched little thing skipping into the dirt. It was dead, perhaps killed by one of kin when the frenzy began. She spread her massive wings and flapped up with a leap, back to the comfort of the colony roost.

A few minutes later, a lone figure in a hooded long, brown robe stepped out of the scrubland. The man was tall, six feet and then some, and took long strides as he walked to the device that the bat mutant had been poking at before. His face remained in shadow except for his jaw, which reflected the setting moon along its metal edge as he bent to pick up his property. The sleeve pulled back from his hand, revealing a row of three round scars on the wrist with metal plugs sprouting from their centers.
His nails looked thick, plastic almost, as he examined his toy for damage. Outside of a few scratches were the snatch bat picked at it, it looked no worse for wear. The man put the white and silver gadget into a pocket inside the robe and turned back to the spot where he had come from. There was a black disc with a dim red light on top sitting an inch above the ground, just large enough for the imposing hooded man to stand on. He stepped onto the platform and the light brightened. If anyone in the tent had bothered to look, they would have been stunned at the sight of the man disappearing as if he had fallen straight down a jackalope hole.
The smell of the bats kept all the other predators away for the rest of the night. Even the tiny brained scorpions had the good sense to not screw with the bats.

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--
11/14/2014 2:58 AM

___Forty miles North, an hour and a half later___

The desert was getting the cool air at night earlier than usual this year. Hark Danby had always wanted to try going South with the birds, but getting caught out in the open by the chemical and acid rains was very likely. He also heard about thick bands of radiation, poisoned ash wastes and cannibals. Nope, not on bikes, Hark decided. He'd been hoping to hijack some traders for their covered rides; but it seems that those people were in an arms race with the bandits, pirates and bikers of the Deathlands the last few years, and purely motorcycle riding gangs were getting their asses handed to them. Not that hitting the big villes was any less suicidal. Fire Talkers also carried the news of a one eyed man and his merc crew who wiped out bandits and barons alike. He wanted to get the hell out of the hellscape. Maybe, he pondered, if they could loot some rain and chem gear, a good tent perhaps? Just him and his psychotic pixie?
Mouse interrupted his gear turning with a scream.

Hark saw him, The Freak, impossibly there. Even from Mouse's point of view the man stood up out of no where. Hark turned away to avoid him, passing a good ten yards to the left of the tall man under the brown hood.
"Where in the shock did that asshole come from?" Hark yelled. He picked his speed up.
"He wasn't there then he just was, baby," Mouse said, arms wrapped around his waist, "I don't know what that was, but it ain't right."

Mouse glanced back over her shoulder, but saw nobody there.
Then Hark yelled "Hold on!" and made a hard turn to the right. Mouse saw a gloved hand pass inches from her face. It was the Freak! She watched him drop out of sight as the bike crested over a dune.

"Hark, what's going on? How'd he do that? What is he..."
"I don't know and we ain't gonna stop to find out." Hark asserted.

Life, Harker Danby knew all too well, was full of weird moments that were best left alone sometimes. This was one of them, of that he had no doubt.
"Not tonight, freak," he yelled with a chuckle, "not tomorrow and never again!"
The cacti and other scraggly growths had a divide through them, about the width of two cars, cutting in an even line on a roughly north/south axis that Hark saw despite the darkness. A road! It was overblown by sand and rough from a hundred years of neglect, but it was a road no less. Hark was about to tell Mouse to hold tighter and open the throttle when he saw a gray and white blur ahead of them coming head on, then two more behind it .
"Radfire!" He managed to yell before he had to brake to turn. The bike went into the scrubs and Hark stopped the engine. "It's a 'lope trample, and there's a big herd coming. You got any flares left in that bag?"
"I got two." Mouse said while pulling out a wax paper wrapped flare with a parachute symbol on it. She tore the paper open and slid the flare out. The red and orange painted launcher was loaded in a split second. "Here comes the sun, darlin'."

The flare popped, flew straight up, then the parachute opened and the desert lit up with an eerie green luminescence in all directions. Hark saw the ears of the herd now, maybe a dozen total, and they were heading south on what he had assumed was one of the lost highways of the wasteland. The large grazing mutants were coming fast.
Hark drew his .45 and shot one round into the air, warning the jackalopes of his presence. The ploy worked. The herd gave them a comfortable birth as it passed.

Hark decided to head due North, they would use an old canyon robbed of its river by the tectonic changes brought by the big chill a century before. He had herd tales of a trader group who used a cave there as a fuel and ammo storage.
"There's a trading outpost about a days ride north." He told Mouse in a very sober tone. "We can trade that AK for enough fuel and food to get us somewhere better."
"We ain't gonna go back to Paso Park? What about our double wide, baby, and our stuff?"

Hark thought about it for a few seconds before the gears started turning.
"Okay, we will have to go back and get it after dark after most of the ville is asleep. Creep in quiet and creep out quiet."
"Quiet as a mouse, baby." She promised.

"Bah! Your idiot banter is nausea inducing!" A deep voice boomed loudly behind them. The startled bikers fell over each other trying to get away, but he was right on top of them. They both drew on the robed man, but he swatted the guns out of their hands with amazing speed. His hands struck like steel and both of them winced and cried out as their guns flew off into the dirt.
"You have my remote. Give it to me now!" The Freak demanded, his black eyes shining from within the hood. "Give it to me or die!"

"Whoa there, alright? I got it here." Hark cautiously said as he reached into the pocket of his leather riding jacket. He quickly handed the cylinder over and asked "You want the box? It's in the saddlebag of the bike."

The Freak nodded and Mouse pulled out the silver toned case to give the terrifying figure what he wanted. " Here, we don't want nothing to do with it. What ever deal you made with my dad, that's all..."

"Almost completed." The deep voice told her. "The test was successful. You may go for now. I will tell you when I find need of you again."
Hark tried to let the man down easy, but the Freak told them in plain terms that they had no choice in the matter. He informed that they would be going to a place a half days ride west of their current location in the salt flats. When Hark asked about fuel, the Freak told him that he would be provided for. The hooded man produced a fuel can of alcohol based fuel for the bike. Hark and Mouse knew not to argue, that would get them both chilled. It was unhealthy to go against the Freak, Ol' Jim had been clear of that before his untimely demise.

The robed mystery man reminded them what failure to obey would mean and stepped away to the shadow of a forked cactus. Then he was gone again.
"Do what he says, baby, please." Mouse begged. "If we do then we can get it over with."

Hark looked east at the first glowing auras preceding the sun started to show.
"That's what I'm afraid of, darlin'." Hark said softly. "That's what I am very afraid of."
Mouse clung to him as the sky started to glow at the horizon. Hark wished he knew the details of what Ol' Jim had agreed to before, and what his plan was, as he filled up the fuel tank . Mouse retrieved the tools of their trade and discovered that the Freak had left three magazines for the empty AKM hung across her back and a plastic wrapped box of prewar .45 rounds for Harks Model 1911. The sooner this was over, she opined, the sooner the two of them could go back to humping like jackalopes in the master bedroom of the Prez trailer.

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--
11/14/2014 1:50 PM

___The Parker wag___

Vasquez and Max were topping off the row of temporary graves with crosses of wire bound aluminum tubing. The survey team would probably send one of the technical sec wags to return the bodies to their families in Juarez, after the convoy arrived at the Fort Geronimo site. The torn canvas shelter walls were used to wrap the heads and faces of the fallen comrades, their bug juice soaked bedrolls served as burial shrouds. Dawn Rodriguez wrote an exacting location report and drew a detailed map to the graves. Gomez and Ramone used the tow chains on the buggy to pull the escort wag to the side of a steep dune before covering it with camouflage netting, the back filled with broken weapons and equipment. The salvageable platform pieces were laid across the hood in sorted stacks, the people of the ville were taught from birth to waste nothing.

The sun had been up for two hours, and the cooler northern winds were ahead of schedule. It was a bad sign, they all knew. They needed to get ahead of the problem, pronto. Vasquez said a prayer for the dead and then it was time to move out. With the space in the rear of the passenger cabin increased by the- now useless- shelter being left behind, Vasquez and Gomez could sit on the floor against the storage boxes and ammo crates. It was better, Peter Vasquez agreed with Juan Gomez, than being tethered to the top of the salvage box cover outside with the gunner and the mutant. The old Humvee cabin had been low rider chopped, but there was plenty of head room if you were on the floor.
The cracked passenger side front fender had a chunk missing, smashed out by the glancing impacts from panicked jackalopes, large enough to see the welded iron plate underneath the fiberglass Corvette shell. The group had recovered enough food tins and fuel from the broken axle escort wag, hopefully enough ammunition as well. They would have to ration the water carefully, but Max and the scouts told the other men that the desert cacti held water if it came down to it. The Gila mutant cautioned them, however, that there were was a carnivore cactus that fed on blood. Parker and Rodriguez confirmed the frightening description with details about circles of drained corpses around the mutant plant/animal hybrids being the warning sign to look out for.

After going over the route a final time, Max climbed up on the iron covered cargo box and gave Mike Corona a hand up. Peter and Juan passed the RPK and ammo pack up before climbing into the rear of the cabin. Ramone took first drive duty, with Dawn spotting for trouble from the front passenger seat. After snapping a short bungee to the light machine blaster, Mike Corona sat down facing the rear and hooked up a tether to his harness. Max sat facing forward with his spear across his lap then hooked his safety harness to an iron ring that was welded to the vertical roll bar that protected the rear of the loot storage access if the wag over turned. A heavyweight plastic tarp was rolled up and tied along the thick tubing, which provided the long bodied mutant a more comfortable back support than expected. Mike gave the roof a double tap. Ramone turned the ignition and they were soon headed West into the sea of dunes.
They kept the jackalopes trail on their right, averaging thirty miles an hour. They saw a hunting pack of six giant scorpions feeding on jackalope in a large depression. Dawn wanted to hit the mutant bugs with the top mounted RPG-7, but she was over ruled. There was one mission, find the lost scouts. Revenge was not on the menu.

The double set of off road tires powered through the dust fine sand, throwing up a wide cloud behind them. The sun was still working its way upward when they came across a comms relay left by Klash a couple of days before. The plastic housing had been cracked open and solar battery had been pulled, the antenna was ripped off and there were a lot of knife or tool marks on the boards. Saboteur, something the barony was used to. What stood out of the normal was that the footprints started from nowhere and went back to the same spot of nowhere.

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11/15/2014 12:10 PM

Mike stood lookout from on top of the heavy cargo cover of the scout wag. The bashed together vehicle looked ridiculous, he thought, but it motored through the terrain of the desert better than any of the Baja style trucks and buggies built by the Alvarez garage. The Motor Chief had been meticulous in keeping the uniformity of the baronial fleet because of the scarcity of quality metals and limited production ability of the ville. The technicals, barely armored small trucks with raised suspensions and large off road tires, and the Baja style scout buggies were easily serviced by design. Most structural parts (including the body panels and armor plate) were designed to be interchangeable, making repairs in the field a lot faster. There was a stack of battle reports, from the ville combat mechanics who participated in the border wars with hostile mutant tribes and bandit camps, that lauded the uniform system for making their job a lot easier. Mike looked down at the Parker Special and felt an almost dread when he tried to imagine having to repair the wag in the middle of a fight. Still, it had a lot of power and survived the beating from the stampede.
"We are so nuked." Mike said to himself. The sand and dust was growing more pale by the mile, and turned to a white blur in the direction the buggy was headed. It was close to noon and the desert sun was beating down like a hot iron fist.

"So, anybody else think that is crazy?" Dawn asked, but didn't allow time for an answer. "So, okay, you are talking Led Zeppelin One? An airship? Really, bros?"
The dark curls of her hair swung in the breeze as she cocked her head sideways and stared at the disappearing tracks. "Like some shit from that Jules Verne book at the library? You guys got into my stash when I was making the map report. Airship. Get the fuck out of here with your airships. Who the fuck in this rad blasted world has an airship? You idiots may as well said space aliens."

Max defended the theory that Vasquez and Ramone had concocted. "It is better than birdmen. They are just a legend."

"What's better, chica?" Ramone asked of his partner. "Do you have a better explanation?"

"No."

Juan Gomez piped in. "What if it was a... Like the... Helicopter? I think they could do it with a helicopter, right?"
Everyone looked at him for a second and considered the explanation.
Max shook his head and pointed at the foot prints. "Those are from a very large man, a heavy man," the muscular mutant explained, "but a helicopter would kick up sand enough to bury the tracks. The tire and foot imprints from the scouts are still visible. A hot air balloon is feasibly possible, a baron in even the most backwater ville could pull that off."
"But," Peter Vasquez interjected, "a balloon couldn't hold position that long without a crew of men on the ground to hold it."
"Exactly! So that means an airship." Ramone reasserted.

"Hey." Mike Corona called to them.

"Okay, so Jules Verne it is." Dawn conceded to the middle aged scout. "We will go with that. Now, we are left with the motive. Why do this?"
"Maybe somebody hates technology." Peter suggested.

"Not if they have an airship, be kind of stupid." Dawn shot the idea down.

"Hey." Mike repeated louder.

"I think," Max told the scouts and sec men, "that it is somebody who doesn't want anyone poking around in their yard."
Dawn smiled at that before responding. "So, like a grumpy old man, but he has a zeppelin to cruise the chem filled skies in. He doesn't like cellular radio tech and..."

"Hey, assholes!" The machine gunner yelled again. "Get up here now!"

Max was the first to the buggy, his long torso and limbs gave him a climbing advantage and he was able to help the others up quickly. The cargo cover got crowded with Dawn and Ramone joining them.
"What is it?" Vasquez asked.
Mike Corona pointed to the west, passing the binoculars to the tall mutant. Max peered through the lenses and handed them to Dawn. Dawn squinted, her expression was hard to interpret for the two sec men on the ground. Ramone had a telescoping spy glass of his own.
"Carrion birds." Mike said. "Something or somebody got chilled out there."

"Alright, let's go make sure it's not who we are supposed to rescue." Max told the comrades in arms. Everyone nodded before hopping down and taking their spots. Max snapped his tether and nodded to the gunner, who double tapped the roof near the RPG-7 mounts. Ramone checked the dash indicators before putting the buggy in gear, the double rear tires dug in and away they rolled.
The sun was hitting the mid day mark, and soon the group would have to start looking for shelter from the afternoon heat.
Brightening sands reflecting the light blurred the horizon where the birds had been spotted, they were just black specks in the binoculars. As the buggy ran over the dunes, kicking off dust plumes to the air, there was a bit of salt in the breeze that only Max could taste for several miles. It took time before the others detected it.
"Salt?" Mike asked. "We near an ocean already?"
Max shook his head. "No, but the ocean took a vacation inland during the war, it left plenty of salt behind as a gift."
"That was nice of it." Mike joked.
"Not to the locals. Word is the steam and water flash boiled on both coasts. Some said it was the bombs, others said it was volcano lines under the water." Max leaned back on the thick plastic tarp as he spoke. "Either way, it killed most everything and made whole areas unlivable. Rads, chems all mixed into the salts, no crops grow."
"Yeah," Mike understood. "I can imagine."



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DEATHLANDS, OUTLANDERS, EARTH BLOOD, and JAMES AXLER are all the property of Gold Eagle / Worldwide Library, and are used here strictly under Fair Use guidelines.
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