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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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--
11/16/2014 12:51 AM

___Ft. Geronimo___

Klash jogged with his SVD slung over his back, carrying the AKM that Pico left sitting on the shelter deck. The prints were hours old, already half covered by the dust and sand blown by the desert winds. The prints started off going east and then there was a second set of prints that appeared next to his. Klash slowed to a walk, shouldering the AKM at the ready. The two sets of prints continued for another sixty yards, up to the top of a flat dune.
The man who followed must have said something or made a noise, Pico had stopped and turned. There was no sign of a struggle. None of it made sense to Klash. How long, the young man wondered, had they stood there talking friendly before the stranger felt confident enough to approach the Cuban scout? Why did Pico accompany the stranger only six more steps before both sets of footprints stepped into nothingness?
"Where?" Klash said to himself.
He pulled out his prewar binoculars, put them to his eyes and started scanning the desert for any other new tracks. There was no sign of his missing friend or the mystery man who had spirited him away. The eye gave him no more clues, but there were his other senses too. It was time to let his hair down, as his mother liked to say.

Klash closed his eyes and slowed his breathing, letting his chin drop down as he relaxed the mental wall that he used to shut out the powerful signals that the thick sensor hairs on the base of his skull constantly picked up. It could get you chilled, the baroness had taught her son, if you let all the neurological impulses of everything that creeps, flies or slithers distract you too much. As he opened his mind to the unseen, he felt a twinkle in the air that reminded him of the static haze that he felt during and right after a lightening storm. People who knew of the powers of the mother and son mistakenly called it a second sight; but it was more akin to a smell, but bioelectrical in nature.
He could partly interpret the impulses, distinguish where they came from and even judge the intentions behind them in simpler creatures. Humans too a lesser degree, they were a complicated mess of neurons and it was hard to tell sometimes their state.
Klash tried to keep his mind clear, but he still lacked the discipline that his mother possessed. He filtered out the neurochemistry of the lizards and insects, easily done. His antennae rose and fell as the wind shifted, then a scent all too familiar to him: chaos.

There was no mistaking the neurological anarchy of stickies. They came in a wide range of colors and adapted their form quickly, even for mutants, to the hostile ecology of the Deathlands that spawned them. They were like little balls of violence and destructive urges with legs. They stank of madness, aggression. But there was something else going on in their mutant nervous systems, they were only a couple of miles north of the ruin and there was a desperation in their signals. He could feel that they were slowly moving southward. They were going to the ruined fort, and they were probably going to pick up his scent soon.
The search would have to wait. There was chilling to be done. Klash closed off his mind to the full world of the extra sensory processing in his antennae hairs and traded the AKM for the Druganov. He would use the watch chair atop the shelter stand if he could get back in time. He wrapped the shoulder strap of the SVD and started for the camp site.
Two hundred fifty yards to cover in the sand and morning sun.
Salt grains and silicates gave under foot, robbing both speed and power, but Klash adjusted his jog. He stayed down wind of the mutants and below the dune crests until he had the ruin between the stickies and himself. The open flat would make a hell of a stickie graveyard, he'd draw them to the kill zone with flares -the chittering beasts loved fire and explosions- then pick the drooling maniacs off
with the SVD.
The watch chair was well hidden behind the blinder, Klash had configured it using a canvas wall panel, that blocked the hypnotic refractions of the crystals the day before. Using the dune buggy to escape was not an option, he never considered it. The RPG-7 on the roof top storage rack was another story. Klash shoved the Druganov into the open window as he leaned through it to his waist. The key for the U lock was in a console box, next to the gear shift. He left the rifle in the passenger seat while unlocking the launcher. The rocket grenades were behind the driver, in a flip topped metal box with foam inserts to protect the warheads from impacts. Klash chose the incendiary grenade, painted all red, and then one yellow and green HE rocket. The other four were anti-armor warheads that had special shaped cone charges that could punch a hole through
armor, like a hot knife through butter.

Klash loaded the incendiary first, hanging the high explosive tipped rocket propelled grenade from a D-ring on his belt. He retrieved the long rifle from the scout wag and checked it over, then grabbed three thirty round banana shaped magazines for the AKM before scaling the ladder to set up for his ambush. He sat the RPG-7 on his lap. The AKM hung on his right shoulder, waiting to be unleased. He checked the horizon with his binoculars, cradling the SVD with his left arm.

The sleek weapon was his most prized personal possession. Juarez's version of the Druganov rifle was made with cultivated tubewood, from a baronial farm in the north western corner of what had been the great Mexican state of Durango, for the stock, covers and grip. New tubewood shoots had been pressed and manipulated, like bonsai trees, to wide and flat tapering planks. The hollow tubewood was as strong as iron, light weight and the only thing that ate it was the chisel toothed jackalopes. There were only enough produced for the baronial security forces, and it was a punishable offense to possess one in the ville and the southern ranches. It was a weapon of unusually elegant beauty compared to the mass stamped look of the AKM's. It had another, more practical advantage over the Russian assault rifles: a 4× magnification side mounted scope that did not interfere with the iron sight of the rifle, allowing the user to switch between the two. It was effective at ranges just over a thousand yards, but would probably get another two to three hundred more if the ville could produce better quality ammunition. As well crafted as it was, it couldn't do this job alone.

Klash loaded a green signal flare in the launcher next to the watch chair and lowered aim to an angle that would give it the longest travel distance possible. Hopefully, the mutants would be distracted by the trick long enough for Klash to chill them all with the SVD. If the flare failed, the fire bomb warhead was on hand to give the stickies something to dance to while he blew their grotesque heads off. If that didn't take enough of them out, then he would blow them into sticky stickie bits.

Randarchist
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--
11/17/2014 1:18 AM
___Convoy Camp___

There were more than a hundred headless husks stretched out under the morning sun. The stench of the snatch bats clung to the corpses, the buzzards flew right on by as soon as they caught a whiff. There were too many, Hector realized as he surveyed the wreckage from the roof of the command trailer. He recognized their clothing style and bikes. Paso bandits, they must have run their engines in the red to catch up with the convoy. It looked like they were sneaking up to attack the camp when all hell broke loose. He had never seen such a large contingent of them at once. They usually harassed and raided traders in wolf pack of ten to twenty bikes. They really hated the Juarez scouts, who had chilled hundreds of the nuisance bandits over the last few years. Hector had seen small villes that they extorted protection tribute from and caravans that the raiders had ambushed. He assumed that they were simple bullies, like so many of the northerners, but this would have been a daring raid had the snatch bats not come along. Now their decapitated bodies lay in a semicircle around the camp, crumpled and broken.

The giant mutants pissed out a huge volume of urine on and around their victims as they squeezed their bodies, leaving a mostly bloodless sack of meat behind. The scene was phantasmagoric. Hector had to stop looking at the faces, frozen in fearful expressions with wide unblinking eyes, before he lost it.
"Focus on something else." He told himself.
The Sanchez construction workers were still asleep, Jen Gutierrez was guarding the shelter. Hector was glad that he had told her to not come out, more so with every minute that passed as he stood there.
"Hector?"
It was Jen, the other two women must have woke up.
"Hector?" She called for a second time.
"Do NOT come out. I'm coming back to you." He replied.

Hector climbed down a service ladder by the hauler. The smell of death was only going to get worse, he knew, once the sun really started cooking the bodies. He walked past the shredded medical tent on his way back, curious as to the fate of the refugee he had rescued the evening before. She was gone, no sign of her. It appeared that somebody in a sec uniform had tried to hide in the tent, but the snatch bats took his head. He wondered if the man gave his life fighting for the girl, or if he was only running for his own life. The terrible thought crossed his mind that the farm girl had made it out only to be taken by a retreating biker. He saw so many foot prints that making hers out was impossible.
The shelter where they had hid, until well after sunrise, was one of the few to survive intact. Hector whistled before he tapped the door and stepped through the flap.

"The smell is going to be worse soon. Take these," Hector told them, handing the construction workers a duffel bag full of gas masks foraged from the now ruined camp center, "and check the seals."
The two women dove right in, happy for something useful to do. Hector knew how Don Sanchez's people prided themselves on how much they helped their community.
"I think we are the only ones left," Hector said grimly, "and it looks like all of Paso Park showed up to night creep us right as the Camazotz hit us."
Jen's brow wrinkled slightly. "The Cam at what?"
"Old tongue, Camazotz, the snatch bats were an ancient legend. A myth before the darkness and death came to wipe out the old world before the old world." Hector explained. "The rads and bios created this breed, though. The pirates down south that got wiped out, they called them Camazotz and celebrated their coming every year by sacrificing children and virgins."
"How do know this stuff?"
"A family of refugee peasants that fled the violence and infighting after the king loon got chilled down there. They wandered into the valley, had no idea how far they come or where they were, but they talked a lot of fire about the pirates and their crazy superstitions. My parents moved them into my old room for a time. They work in the corn fields now and will have their own adobe soon. Good people, Mom says, hard workers too."
Jen had heard of the Xibalba Empire, the Durango ranchers and farm villes had spent decades under strict protocols to stay off their maps. Not even those who Juarez traded with had a clue to the existence of the hidden valley. "Santos! Those poor folks down the Yucatan...."
"Yeah, they said that the bats could have flocks-is it flocks?- that numbered in the dozens, but what hit us was something all together different. Those monsters shredded the command trailer, tents, wags... almost everything. I never saw this behavior before, the destruction."
"We gotta get out of here. What if they come back?"
"Yes, we do, but first thing is that you and I should scavenge the camp. See if we can get a couple of wags that aren't too damaged to take us home." Hector looked at the two women sitting on fold down cots. "How are those masks coming along, ladies?"
The women held up six masks between them. "We got two extra," the older woman told him, "but the rest of this mess is recycle only. Cracked, torn, filter busted..." She pointed at the bag of ruined masks, "or the head straps are ripped up. Some are stunk up with ammonia. The bats pissed all over them."
"Disgusting." Jen remarked, scowling.
"Ok, I'll toss the bad ones." Hector nodded to them. "Thank you. These will save our lives."
He handed a mask to Jen. "Come on. Let's get on the snap for food and water. We have to get out of here before noon unless we want to stay another night hoping they don't come back to finish us off." Hector slid the leather and cloth face mask and pulled the straps tight enough to make a seal around his forehead and neck. Jen had a hood type mask, made of soft goat skin.
They waved goodbye before stepping out into the white glare of the morning sun.
Randarchist
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--
11/17/2014 5:36 PM
The last thing that Simon Alvarez remembered was the world spinning topside down when the ball turret went over the highway ramp edge and down the steep, rocky hillside. The birdcage bounced off several rocks and fell eight feet into a rain cut trench where it became wedged firmly, the twin RPK machine guns pointed down. He went face first into one of the steel plates when the ball slammed to a stop with enough force to knock the already disoriented and battered Motor Chief out cold. By the time he woke up, the sun had been up for three hours and the bubble he had gone off roading in was heating up. The light hurt as he opened his eyes, he could feel the dried blood around his eyes and nose, his joints growled at him as he tried to lift his head. He felt the sun, the light painted his closed lids with warmth. It was reassuring, the warm rays told him that he was still among the living.
How many people, he wondered, had lost their lives to the mutants? Why did they attack the convoy so furiously, and in such great numbers? The faces of his crew flashed in his mind, men and women who had put their lives in his hands. The weight of his guilt pressed heavily on his heart. Then there were the support teams he had asked the Dons to send, sec men and laborers, and the indie scouts who had been drafted for the convoy. He had seen how deadly the enemy was, odds were that they had all become bat chow.

His head ached, throbbed in time to his heart. He rolled over on his back, his Makarov poked painfully beneath his shoulder; but it was nothing compared to how much his head hurt, however. He could feel that his ribs were bruised, but not broken. He had to get out or get cooked.
The bruises on his arms and legs screamed with pain when he sat upright. The turret was less stable than he believed, it slid an inch as he shifted his weight to straighten up.
"Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit...."
The ball started to roll, so he shifted to the other side of the gun ports to stabilize the turret.
He exhaled slowly and relaxed against the inverted seat. Going out the hatch was not an option. The window, he would have to remove the guns and their mountings first, was the safest way out of the rapidly heating ball of steel. He pulled a screwdriver from his leather tool pouch and an adjustable wrench. The guns were on a shared 4-axis pivot held in place by eight bolts. His head hurt when he stained to loosen each one. He felt weak, light headed as he lifted the RPK's and the pivot up and into the birdcage. He was able to wedge them along the back of the upside down seat, against the hatch.
Now he had a little more room for his elbows.

Five screws, two brackets and one hard stomp later, the curved window fell free and thumped into the dirt. The Motor Chief judged it to be about an eight foot drop.
"You can do it." He told himself as he holstered loose Makarov. The birdcage creaked as he set his feet on either side of the opening. "Don't you do it. I'm gonna get you out too, baby."
Simon squatted slowly, minding how he distributed his weight, then placed his hands on the steel framing. His shoulder popped as he put his body mass onto his palms and fingers. He let his feet down one at a time, straightened his elbows and let his arms fold up as he dropped. He bounced off the rock face and landed in a roll out. A very awkward stumble to get up followed, then the Chief started walking out of the deep spillway.
The dirt and rock opened up after seventeen yards. As his view improved, he caught the stench of the bodies and snatch bat urine.
He also was able to see the headless iron horsemen of the Paso Park bandit gang, their pale screaming faces locked in horrified expressions.
"Mother of God, what is all of this?" He prayed, but there was no angelic messenger.
Simon ran to the closest one and his jury rigged bike. It had been bashed together from the parts of at least four other, but similar, bikes. It didn't have much fuel. These men must have been planning to wipe out the convoy and take the fuel, he thought. There were dozens of them all spread out amidst the scrub brush and tumbleweeds.
"What were you idiots thinking?" He asked the decapitated husk.

He didn't wait to see if the dead biker had an answer, he kick started the dirt bike and put on a filter mask hanging in a clear plastic bag zip tied to the handle bars. If the bike made it here, he thought, it will get to Juarez with a couple of fuel cans and light tune up. He saw a bag full of pipe bombs laying on the ground, but decided to leave them. There was a locked rack of rocket propelled grenades and launcher units in the armory tent. It was probably of no interest to the snatch bats.
He had tools, he would get something together. He let off the hand brake and gunned the engine, winding his way back up the incline to the camp.
Randarchist
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--
11/18/2014 1:54 PM
___Ville Juarez___

The glowing pinks and yellows of first light crept into the ville. Adobe houses with their painted shutters put on their daytime colors before the night watch was relieved from their wall duties. With a third of the security forces out with the convoy, everyone pulled extra hours in order to fill the gaps left behind. Some of the sec men and women worked an extra half shift, some pulled double duty, but the wall and street patrols didn't skip a tick off the clock on their rounds. The fifty odd outsiders in the district managed by Don Sanchez never had cause to suspect that a full third of the baronial militia was gone. The traders, farmers and traveling caravans were going to be leaving soon anyway, soon to be followed by a significant portion of the population who wintered in the southern lands of the barony. When the fall and winter acidic chem storms blew in with the Devil Wind, the trade and tourism seasonal workers would load into well armed buses for the four day drive to the Ranches of the hidden valley. There was harvesting to be done, production work at the noble houses industrial shops and dozens of community projects. Baron Hadron knew that idle hands were, indeed, the devil's plaything; so he and the council hatched a scheme to keep those hands ALL busy enough to avoid Mischief's beckoning whisper.
'From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.' Was one of the many slogans that people who were raised in this new society heard a lot. It sounded fair enough to the hard working citizens. There was a job roster for each house industry, all of the the ville citizens had a contribution to make. The work hours were divided as fairly and evenly, leaving the people of the Juarez Barony with a little bit of free leisure time. Luchadores, mariachis, gaudy brothel workers and farm hands had parts of the year when things slowed down, but they had tokens for goods and services to get them through the off seasons. Sec and industrial workers had year round work. The ville was a front for the hidden valley rancheros, the source of most all of the food and other resources, a way to misdirect attention from those barbarians and despot kings of the formerly "civilized" world.

Civilized? Not to the eyes of Lady Isabella Hadron, Baroness of Juarez and the four Rancheros. So civilized that they destroyed the world, she was quick to point out to those who became overly nostalgic about the Old American Empire. The history books stored in the free school and library, where she spent so much of her day, were limited to prewar reconstructions -created by taking the best preserved sections of duplicate copies stuffed into three ring binders- and the personal journals of survivors of the apocalypse. The Baroness had been running the school for nearly twenty years, her husband made basic literacy for children and adults a civil right at her request and she personally taught the first classes. It took a few years for him to agree to start paying people to teach, but it paid off with this new generation of young people in spades. Even the basically educated peasants had improved the quality of their work and their lives compared to their parents. Hope was not a carrot tied to the end of a stick in her school, it was the primary focus for her teachings. None of the children in her class saw anything strange about her being a mutant, most of their parents had been her students.
She was a near saint to the people of the barony, most especially because she discouraged such praises or comparison to religious figures. Humility was unheard of in the post nuclear ruling classes of the poisoned modern world, but her gentle smile projected it most when she was talking to the children and peasant adults of her literacy program.
She wore her thick black hair up when teaching, so that no one missed her antennae. There was a bright blue bandana holding her ebon tresses in place, it matched the sash around the waist of the white sundresses that made up the bulk of her wardrobe. Her husband still slept while she and her assistants, Gina Flores (nicknamed G-1) and Gina Sanchez (G-2), walked out of the Hadron bunker door. There was a lot of planning and packing to be done. She detected the migrations of herd and flock heading away from the eight hundred mile wide storm front cutting across the resculpted Sierra Madre, the neurological impulses of their biochemistry carried the scent of fear. The Devil must have set his alarm early this year.

"Gina 2," Lady Hadron addressed the teenaged daughter of the Don, "I'm putting you in charge of my office today. Each child, tell the teachers, is taking evacuation notices home to their parents at two o'clock. Then the teachers must pack their class supplies and books by five."
"Yes, my Lady." The young woman said with a slight wobble in tone, drawing a raised eyebrow from her boss.
"I'm giving you the job because I KNOW that you will do it as well or better than myself, G-2," she told the girl, that patient warmth returning to her smile, "and you have my total faith. Now, Gina 1."
"My Lady." The assistant answered, pencil and clip board of notes ready.
"Let us see..."The baroness stuck out her thumb and licked it before flipping the page on her own schedule notebook. There was only one item to check off. "We are going to the zoo and then the greenhouses. You and my guards are going to lend me a hand loading the orange tree planters on flatbeds with the citrus farmers."
"Yes, my Lady."
"Okay, ladies," she concluded the meeting, "let's show the men how to do it right."


Gina 2 stepped quickly on her way to a donkey cart waiting by the heavy iron covered wooden gates, excited by the chance to prove her administrative skill. The smile on her face glowed as the sun started to come up over the ville walls, chasing the shadows back to their hiding places. The Baroness and her other secretary strolled around the keep to the parking lot where her carriage waited, flanked by the six female warriors of her personal guard holding PM-63 RAK submachine blasters. They wore identical blue, black and gray urban camouflaged pants and shirts with blue and black Kevlar vests over the uniforms. Each wore a bright blue military cap that the First Lady of Juarez had personally embroidered with a black thunder bird logo, her husband's coat of arms. The symbol represented his family's history of serving as instruments of law, but now it was also the emblem of justice as well. Baron Eduardo publicly credited his wife for much of that, and privately told her that his heart had belonged to her from the first seconds that he laid eyes on her.

She stepped into the carriage with Gina 1, who told the driver their destination. The horses pulled the royal blue stagecoach style conveyance out of the gates, guards standing on the runners with their black PM-63's slung over the outside shoulder. They all knew that going to the greenhouse meant that the odds were that they would be using the guns soon. Some of them smiled at the prospect.
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--
11/19/2014 3:59 PM
The gate closed behind the coach after it passed the sand bag and cement highway divider enclosed security stations. The machine gun defended posts had heavy canvas sun covers, two man teams on each of the four post mounted RPK's that guarded the entrance to the bunker perimeter walls. The carriage pulled onto an access road for the loop that led to the Sanchez sector of the walled ville. Like the outriders, the driver wore a PM-63 over her shoulder on a strap. The codriver also wore a submachine blaster, but she sat next to an AKM by the seat in a long leather rifle holster. She was the oldest in the team, and had the striping of a sergeant on her sleeves, below a baronial patch on the left upper arm and a white and blue AKM embroidered patch on the right side.
The ride was fairly smooth, the stage's springs had been replaced recently by the Motor Chief. Lady Isabella had the family friend install a few extra hidden surprises, kept off books and paid for with a palette of steel ingots that her son had found on a sand covered truck near the wind blasted ruins of Old Juarez. The early spring cleaning of the ville had been delayed that year, reports from a Guzman scout team confirmed Baroness Hadron's warning that the one eyed man was in the region.
Eduardo Hadron ordered the annual dig out of the town to stop, the recovery teams and security forces went to ground in the four sand covered bunkers, until after the chaos passed. The Cyclops Protocol, as the Dons called it, was a quick evacuation for the citizens and a plan to bury the town in the shifting sands as best as possible. The legends left behind by the One Eyed Man were spread around the Deathlands, in the form of trade caravans and Fire Talkers (men and women who make their living traveling from settlement to settlement and entertaining the locals with tall tales mixed with actual news) who visited the booming trading post. The stories about this man all had one thing in common: death and destruction followed the man, no matter if he was painted as hero or villain. The people of Juarez and the Rancheros were better served by staying out of his way, of that she and her husband had no doubt.

As the stagecoach was pulled by the horses through the waking ville, workers and shopkeepers were walking their children to the school. She waved at the ones that she recognized through the window, her security detail watching in every direction for any threat to their Lady. Gina 1 lifted the opposite seat and set the slide bracket on the jointed swing arm to hold it in place. The hidden locker under the seat had fold out racks of sectioned off storage trays full of loaded magazines for pistols, sub guns and AKM's. There was also a rack of guns in the bottom, a long box of fragmentation and smoke grenades.
"G-1, I want you to tell Ginas 8 and 6 to head over to the Big Garage. They should tell Don Alvarez that one of the evacuation buses sprung a leak in the fuel supply. Tell him that the leak is fixed but not before the tank was emptied. Borrow a wagon and bring it to the greenhouse loading dock." The Lady of Juarez instructed, "Send Gina 7 to the our woman imbedded with the motorcycle patrol, tell her to call in a report that the one eyed man was seen to the northeast. You take the coach back to the keep, tell my husband that I was gathering plants for a lesson when I had a vision of the Chaos Bringer. The other Ginas and I will wait in the greenhouse until you all get back."
"Yes, my Lady, it will be my honor..." The secretary was cut off.
"Oh, stop it. Just make sure you don't over
o the vision tale, I want the Dons and my husband to concentrate on the protocol, not me. I need room to work, okay?"
"Yes, ma'am."
With that, the Baroness stepped out of the coach and started walking up the path to the greenhouse, the remaining Ginas falling in behind her. The Sergeants striped woman in last place, carrying a black and silver brief case in one hand, stepped to her Lady's side after the group entered the repurposed prewar open courtyard mall.
"Lady, I am sure you don't need any reminder" the elder sec woman told her, "that this is the second time since the last real sighting of the bogeyman of the Deathlands that we have pulled this."
"Yes, G-3," she answered, "but if I told him the truth, there would be more problematic questions that we don't have time for."
"Isabella, I'm your oldest friend, so I am speaking more than as your bodyguard now: You are going to have to tell the truth eventually."
"Gina Dominguez, you know good and well that now is not the time. Too many lives and livelihoods depend on what we have to do. So the merchants lose a few weeks of sales, it's the end of the summer anyway- they won't be out that much for being out of the storms."
"No, they won't. Don't pretend that I don't know what you are really so afraid of, my friend and most loved sovereign. Before my powers failed permanently, I saw the hooded man too. I know how his evil grows unchecked still. I may not be the wild eyed girl tormented by terrifying visions anymore, but I don't need those abilities to see where this is all going to get us."
"Yes, I know you are right. Thank you, Gina, only you could understand the nature of this war, and I can't think of anybody else that I would rather have fighting beside me in such an impossible battle with fate."
The two women exchanged nods. The smell of citrus filled the air inside the courtyard as they entered. The women walking casually as the Lady of House Hadron smiled and waved to the farmers, who were noticeably pleased to see the most powerful woman in Ville Juarez strolling in their midst again. Her white sundress and blue accoutrements brought the young workers back to the very best of memories from their childhoods, to the inspirational way that she taught them to feel and think about their own lives.
But she, and the over the prime precognitive, knew something that they did not: that a devil more destructive than any wind or fire story legend was coming to devoure the collective hopes and dreams of the good people of Ville Juarez, forever snuffing out yet one more candle in the darkness that had been thrust upon the world.
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--
11/20/2014 3:57 PM
___Convoy Camp___

Hector Munoz and Jen Gutierrez were dragging a half empty fifty gallon plastic drum of Alvarez bug repelling chems out of the command trailer, their progress hindered by the slippery fire retardant foam that was still settling down on the aluminum diamond plate floor. The sun was heating up the blood drained corpses of their fallen comrades and the few snatch bats they managed to take with them into the shadowed valley of death. Clouds of green and yellow poisoned water vapor raced across the desert horizon, rolling toward the south, their wisps and columns folding onto themselves from the northern wind dragging them over the rising thermals of the sun baked Sonora.
"Look," Hector said, pointing at the toxic mists brewing to the west, his voice muffled by the gas mask he had over his face,"see the green reflected in the clouds?"
Jen wiped the dusty lenses of the leather and plastic protective hood, her head tilting to the side. "Yes. Ok. Clouds are green from chemicals. They blow in every year about this time."
"No, not this early, they don't. We should not be seeing this for another month almost, until a week after Revolution Day." Hector told her as he went into his shoulder bag to consult the baronial almanac, folded and stuffed into the middle of his scout's map and journal. Hector folded the pulp paper guide over, checking the compiled weather statistics of the last two decades. "The ville will know too, and they..."
"They will start packing up, and we will be left behind if we aren't back in time."
"And there won't be a rescue party since every vehicle, except the cycles, is already out here. They will be short handed enough trying to move the migrant workers back to Durango." Hector shook his head and refolded the almanac. "They won't have a choice."
"Then we better get back to Juarez, quick like." Jen said, the seriousness of their situation sinking in as she spoke. "There is no way we will survive the winter out here on our own."
Hector searched for encouraging words, but his train of thought was cut short when he heard the sounds of a motorcycle engine starting outside of the camp perimeter. The engine noise started moving around the bottom of the slope below the curved highway ramp, sputtering loudly as it circled around.
Jen's eyes widened with fear as the sound of the cycle's growl grew louder, closer. "Hector, it must be one of the bandits come back to loot!"
"Get back to the tent, now! And keep those two quiet!"

The motorbike pushed up the hill leading to the highway curve, kicking up dust into the blackish exhaust belching from the pipes. Motor Chief Alvarez turned into the camp ring behind the trailer that carried the bulldozer and small excavation machine, taking in the destruction left behind by the mutant bats. The battle was short, but vicious, and the humans never stood a chance. Their bloodless faces, many with open eyes and mouths, were staring in all directions, leaving nowhere to escape from their accusing gaze.
Simon was tempted to pack up as many guns and fuel cans as possible and make a run for Juarez, but the men and women here deserved better than to be left open to the elements like that.
He started planning how to best deal with the bodies. He could haul them all home on the large flatbed, but the decapitated state and their horrific expressions would be traumatic for the families. Burning would take fuel and time, and who knows what that might attract. No, he thought, best to use the digging machine to make a few mass graves. It might take a day or two to accomplish the task. His mind was distracted, too much, so he didn't noticed until too late the butt of Hectors AKM swinging at his chest. The impact knocked him off the bike, which careened over a few yards later, and he went down flat on his back. The air was already knocked out of his lungs as the ground rushed up to meet him.
"Oh shit! It's the Chief!" A voice yelled, but it seemed distant as his world shrank to a pin point and went dark for the second time in a day.
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--
11/21/2014 1:42 AM
___The Harpy___

Pico had no bearings. No point of reference with which he could make sense of what he was looking at. The world he saw -dancing dots of soft multicolored lights that blinked from one place to another, some spinning into existence and then out again, others seemed permanent and all were floating on top of an infinity black fluid that rippled with the perturbations of the faintly glowing dots- was beyond his comprehension. His body felt like it existed; but there were no senses of touch, hearing, taste or smell.
He tried to speak, it felt like he said something, but there was no sound. He screamed, felt that he had, but the result was the same.
Was this death? No, but maybe he was in a coma, he thought to his utter terror. What a horrible state that would be... but, no, he was awake. Awake and staring into the void. Turning his head was not possible, but his eyes worked out the edges of his vision on their own. He could close his eyes, block out the infinitely dark liquid and the pixie lights playing on its oil like surface, he felt like he could even sleep. Maybe if he slept, he speculated, he would wake up where he belonged.


The hooded man sat in his foam padded, aluminum chair. He smiled when Pico tried to speak and then screamed, but did not stop typing on the keyboard held in front of him by a thin, chromed robotic arm projecting down from the ceiling. His white lab gloved fingers clicked and tapped the keys rapidly, the words displaying on the four foot wide video monitor on the wall. After typing a coded command, he pulled a long connection cable from the side of the keyboard and attached it to a clip on microphone. He typed 4-1-1 into the numeric keypad and started dictating into the mic.
"The Laszlo field is working." his words appeared on the screen as he spoke, "So far, the test subject has been exposed for 6 hours with no noticeable synaptic damage. Subject was acquired without incident, responding willingly to simple commands. Subject's companion showed no reaction to exposure to the Glass Men's hypnotic attack. Further observation of the companion indicated some kind of communication with the humanoids, but the nature of the communication remains a mystery.
Subject has shown somewhat limited return of mental faculty since emersion, but is secured in the field. Muscle control has been successfully overridden by the neurological implants, and sensory rerouting chip is functioning perfectly so far: the subject experiences nothing without permission from the subdermal control board implanted at the base of his skull. All visual data is being recorded for UNICOM analysis upon return to El Dorado facility."
The man unplugged the mic, typed 1-1-4 on the keypad and rewound the cable before returning it to the recess on the keyboard.

He walked over to the rippling black pool of energy, stretched within what looked like a large metalwork picture frame on the floor, where Pico hung face down on nearly two dozen thin steel cables, half submerged.
"I wonder, my friend," the Freak said as knelt down and then lightly tapped the turgid manifold surface once, "if you can comprehend what you are seeing."
The robed man looked sad in his body posture for a moment, then stood up and returned to his chair. He leaned over and touched a switch on the mechanical arm that held the keyboard to turn off the overhead lights, leaned back in the chair, closing his faintly glowing eyes. The foam padding grew larger and softer in reaction to his posture, increasing comfort for its occupant enough for sleep.
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--
11/21/2014 3:15 PM
___Fort Geronimo___

The crystals -now flattened out into two by two foot octagonal plates, clustering together in groups of three to twelve- leaned northward on the open salt flat. They had soaked up enough energy, Klash received a single blink of a reflection carrying an electrochemical warning. It was a lower powered version of the last exchange, only causing him to lose a few seconds of time; as opposed to the hours he lost while his mind processed the complex neural transmission sent the night before. He felt the same level of having been at rest, in comfort, as after the long exchange.
"Thank you." He whispered, knowing that they would detect the intention of the act, as he raised his goat leather wrapped prewar binoculars.

The stickies were two and a half miles away. And they were, as best as his antenna like sensory hairs felt, preoccupied by six late migrating jackalopes warren: neurological signals of their violence, the owl like hoots of joy and their prey's fearful attempts to escape. The raw meat from the herd wouldn't fill them up, not that it would matter if it did, so they would still be looking for food to fuel their chaotic roaming when they got to him.
Klash bowed his head forward and relaxed his shoulders, inhaling deeply. He held the air in his lungs, counted down from 10 to 0, then closed his eyes while releasing the breath. He allowed the thick sensory antennae to stand out from the rest of his thick black hair and imagined a pinhole in his mental wall. He willed the tiny opening to pan from the stickies clockwise. There was scorpion fleeing the smell of the stickie pack, headed east. A second herd of ten jackalope moving south of him.
But the west was nothing but a billowing wall cloud of electrostatically charged dust, particles of radioactive ash and poisonous acid rain blowing south.
It was a small relief that the hell storm was not yet traveling east. Klash had a modified rain suit and gas mask with good filters, and the Rosanna had been recently changed chem seals; but he was in no way eager to use them. The rain suits got hot fast and sweat gathered in the thick chemical proof boots, making the protective gear stinky after a half days use. No, Klash understood the warning. The stickies were coming, hyped up with adrenaline and recharged by the healthy mutant rabbit flesh.


Only stripped bone and sinew remained of the jackalopes. They had taken a hard nap under the ground, and the stickies were looking for buried treasure as soon as they caught up their musky scent. The whooping horde caught them as they tried to break a run from the common sleeping area. The stickies dragged them kicking and eeping, wresting them down with superior numbers. It was a hard fight even at the five to one advantage, the tufts of thick jackalope fur had been a challenge and several stickies took hard double kicks before the figured out to use their clawed talons and teeth instead of the adhesive suckers along their three fingered hands. If the odds had been more even, the mutant rabbits might have carried the day. Klash had closed the pinhole camera in his mental defenses, the animals were suffering the worst kind of chilling that the Deathlands vomited over the old border.
It didn't take long before the crystals started changing size. The octagons sank beneath the surface and disappeared from view.
"What the shocking hell, guys?" Klash asked his hosts. "I hope you know that I can't do that trick. They will smell me like they did the 'lopes."

No answer.

Klash felt the signal approaching, a mass of discordant twitching nervous impulses and compulsions, before he spotted the stickies. He could smell their complete physicality. They were creatures purely in the moment, one shared mad cult of sensation addicts. He had a very different understanding of these creatures than any normal human. More so than even the ville neobiologist, Doctor Lisa Hammond, who studied them in the baronial zoo. Klash understood that their crazed systems shared a beat, it had a pulse pounding constant thump that ran on a constant loop when they frenzied. The most base instinctual drives HAD to be indulged, which is what made them nigh impossible to civilize.
They got to less than a mile away before they picked out his scent on the breeze. He could tell by the excitement that pumped their heart rates up and got them whooping as they scurried from dune to dune. The beat thumped and pounded, their heads bobbing to the drum in their own head. Klash felt their hunger, even with the walls of his mind up.
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--
11/22/2014 2:13 AM
Buzzard hawks and vultures knew a mass chilling was brewing, the animals understood that armed humans left big parts of carcasses to spoil more often than not. They had already started circling when he started loading up for the fight. Maybe they had evolved a bit in their game, because they were definitely betting like it was a sure thing. A small, juvenile buzzard hawk swooped down and perched on the scout buggy cargo rack. Klash read no intention directed toward himself in the act.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, brother." Klash spoke at the bird, which cocked a long look at him before returning its eye back to the dry salt flat. "You know what I have planned, don't you? You want the scraps? You and yours are welcome to whatever is left."
Another of the carrion feeders joined the first on the rack, three more circled far above the open flats, rising and turning on a thermal current. Klash could see the stickies as well as the birds now, their tan to white mottled skin was blistered from the sun but the beat of the biological drum machines had them bouncing and head bobbing as they trilled and hooted cacophonous fills between the thumping bass of heartbeats. They had not yet pinpointed him, sitting above the ground in the watch chair next to the tall blinder, their beady black eyes were too squinted by the blinding sun to pick his desert camouflaged canvas hiding spot. It felt like the right time to open up the bait for his trap, so he pulled the switch on the flare launcher.
The pop was loud, but the ruins defused the noise of the rocket flare perfectly. The mutants turned up their blank, inhuman eyes on the flaming red star as it sailed over the top of the dunes and came to rest in the middle of the ruins. Klash herd the collective whistling as the gruesome muties reacted to the little ball of fire. His extra sense caught on to the fringes of their unashamed circle jerk of delight, they all wanted some of that fire action. The creatures sometimes skipped, sometimes ran, sometimes rolled as they flowed down toward the remains of Fort Geronimo. One of them had the ears and torn scalp hide of a jackalope wrapped around its head and had enough self awareness to make a joke of hopping along and eeping loudly, a mockery of his last meal. It was just stupid enough to be grotesquely funny to Klash, who let out a surprised chuckle.
"I must be losing my beans from the heat." He told himself, trying to keep focus as he looked through the scope of his Druganov SVD and chose his first target.

There were eighteen of the gibbering stickies in the main cluster and nearly a dozen spread out stragglers that were lagging behind. The desert had thinned out their numbers greatly, but they still acted like a hundred strong mob. As they drew closer to the cluster of broken cement walls, Klash set the reticule on the lead mutant's head. This was a new one for him, stickies with tusks like like a boar. Their eyes were not just squinted by the sun's scornful glare, they were smaller than normal. Their heads had a curved taper similar to that of a gourd, with a twin slit nose and a wide mouth full of oddly spaced fangs between the knife shaped tusks. This one was dragging a jackalope's foot, smashing it against salty, cracked desert floor as it skipped towards the ruin. Klash pulled the Druganov's tubewood stock tightly to his shoulder and flipped the safety off.
The 7.62×54 mm R cartridge boomed, the gourd exploded like a pinata. The steel cored slug passed through the the erupting skull and the body was trampled over by its kin, who were single mindedly fixated on the sizzling flare at the center of the ruined structure jutting up from the ground.
Klash shoved another flare into the launch tube, then lined up a shot on the tallest one as it was knocking a smaller stickie out of the way. Klash put the bullet between the nose slits and the back of the head popped like a boil. The body folded down into a seated position as blood flowed from the holes in a slow trickling stream.

The Freak watched the video link, a birds eye view from a vulture that had been used in a previous experiment in cybernetics. The vulture made a perfect spy drone, people tended to accept their presence without scrutiny. He hit a button on the remote control and zoomed in on the action as the second glowing red flare flew into the middle of the ruin, landing only a few yards from the first. The stickies had yet to notice that they were being picked off. The idiot beasts hooted and danced to pulsing sizzle of the fire.
"And the beat goes on, the beat goes on..." He sang in a whispered baritone as the mutants started hooting and dancing around the clever distractions.


Klash popped another stickie in the face, the bullet hit the mutant behind it in the chest and pulverized the the knee of a third. His next bullet punched through the throat of another thrusting and gyrating monster, nearly decapitating it. The body fell. The bunny eared hopper noticed the dropping corpse. It must have been smarter than the average sticky, because it froze for a moment and turned around.
"You're next, bunny." Klash muttered before firing his fifth shot; but the rascally, rabbit ear wearing mutant hopped out of the way, allowing the bullet to slam into the torso of one of the stragglers as it arrived. "Oh no you don't!"

Klash saw the first flare was going out. Bunny ears picked it up and screamed in pain from the burning of its hand. A pot bellied stickie with long arms pointed at him and shook with laughter right as Klash sighted its head. Bunny ears eeped and ducked to punch the laughing stickie in the crotch. The impact on the genital region coincided with the Druganov round bursting the ribcage of its recipient, and bunny ears was astounded by what it perceived as a new trick that it had learned.
Klash let the SVD hang freely as he pulled up the RPG-7. It was time to get the party into full swing.
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--
11/22/2014 3:02 PM
INTERMISSION
Music: "I wanna be your dog" by Iggy and the Stooges
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11/22/2014 3:36 PM
___The Parker/Rodriguez scout buggy___

"Fish People?" Mike asked the long bodied mutant sitting across from him on the cargo cover.
"I have no idea," Max admitted, "never heard that one." He was tightening the grips on the hunting spear, ready for whatever those vultures were in line for.

"Oh! How about the Bug Men?"

"Yes. You ever heard of the Scorpion Men?" Max asked.

Mike looked puzzled for a second, then asked "Fake, right?"

Max looked disappointed. "I was hoping you knew. Okay, ask me another one if you want."

Mike was about to say 'Centaurs', but he was stopped by a sudden braking of the Parker Special, as Max had dubbed it. Ramone Parker never gave vehicles names, he went through a number of them over his career. If Ramone had called it anything, he would have named it Butch's Cleaver, after the man who designed it.
The buggy came to a stop and Dawn Rodriguez stuck her head out the side window. "Flare!" She yelled, pointing at a red signal flare trace a low arc above the dunes.

Ramone hit the accelerator and turned left toward the source of the rocket. Max let his tether line out enough to allow a kneel or crouch. Mike slipped his arms through the heavy ammo pack for the RPK light machine gun, on loan from Max. Gomez and Vasquez had their AKM barrels pointed out the smaller rear windows on either side. The back half of the passenger cabin had been chopped at a curved taper and covered with intact Corvette rear window. The window tinting that the prewar owner was long ago ruined, but Butch paid out the nose for it to have recoated as dark as possible and still see through on a hot summer day.

"MAX," Dawn yelled out, "YOU GOTTA STEP OVER TO THE DRIVER SIDE. RPG's gonna fry your scales..."

Gunshots echoed in the dry, salt kissed air as Max complied, shifting the spear to his left hand while drawing the Makarov from the holster. The compacted dunes made the thundering rifle shots rebound in the furrows, but the loud cartridge had to be a Druganov, Mike knew. The baronial heir, he thought, he is the only one firing.
The Frankenstein wag swerved to the right and coasted to a halt on a large flat dune top. A large salt flat was exposed in front of them. A series of shattered and sand blasted walls stuck up from the hard ground, and it was difficult to tell how many there had originally been. The vultures circled over the center of the ruins, where the flare had landed. They were soon joined by a pair of buzzard hawks.
Mike looked to his left in time to see a man pop out of cover with a shoulder fire rocket propelled grenade launcher. The warhead arced at a high angle and landed in the middle of the ruins. There was a loud but small concussion inside the tight cluster of ruined structures, humanoid shapes were blown out from behind tall remnants of walls, followed by a pillar of flame that rose up from the center of the blast.
Incendiary.
The humanoids got up quickly, raising their thin arms and hooting madly.
"Stickies." Max said and then spit, "Go! We gotta take them down!"

"Stay snapped, young man!" Parker told the Gila mutant then put the wag over the crest, charging down the fine sandy slope.
As the buggy leveled off, Dawn reached across for the wheel to fine tune her shot. Three RPG's back blast blew past Mike and Max as the explosive warheads streaked from the launch tubes. A group of stickies had clustered together next to the wall where the RPG volley struck. The HE grenades worked great against the old cement construction, blowing jagged fragments through the bodies of a dozen of the now enraged -but regrouping- whooting abominations, shredding them as it blew most of them into the fire.

The remaining twenty odd stickies started hooting and came charging through the dust cloud towards the patchwork scout wag's roaring large block engine. Ramone flipped the switch for the front facing guns, but nothing happened.
Oh shit...." He yelled and started smacking the dash board."come on... what is going on here?"
The red light next to the switch flickered on.
"Guns are down!" Ramone yelled as he took a gentle right turn.

Dawn slapped a line to her harness and stood up out of the passenger side window, both hands wielding Makarov pistols. "Give 'em hell, Corona!" She screamed as she opened up with both pistols. The 9 mm rounds exploded from casings, tearing into a fast moving stickie's head and outstretched sucker covered hands. Pieces of the fat fingers flew off as the bullets passed through, smashing into the face of the tusked mutant.

"Call me Mike!" The machine gunner yelled as he pulled the RPK trigger, unleashing a thundering stream of lead at the heads of the front row of howling stickies. The light machine gun chattered like a jack hammer, 7.62×39 mm rounds tore away heads and limbs as he tracked his fire across the group of four. A fifth stickie, wearing a jackalope's long-eared crown as a hat, ducked low quick enough to dodge the hot death.

Max chose to make more strategic shots with his 9 mm. He spotted a group of three break from behind a five yard wide wall of fissured cement. The leader had long, skeletal upper arms, elbow tusks and frightfully over muscled lower arms. The stickie trudged forward using his arms to run. Max took aim at the left knee cap and put a Makarov slug through the center as the creature swung its legs forward. The beast went down screaming, the two behind it plowing into it.
He put his second shot into a stickie that wall climbed to get above the second sweep Mike did with the RPK. The bullet hit the mouth, blowing out the left tusk and surrounding tissue before it hit the wall in a spatter of stickie blood and flesh. The mutie shrieked, grabbing the wound as it fell twelve feet onto the hard salt ground.

Gomez and Vasquez were side by side in the triangular window behind Ramone, who was cursing at the wag, firing short burst into the chests of the group of six that Mike tried to decapitate. Two had ducked in time to get chilled by their AKM's ear pounding outbursts, the other four had their gourd shaped skulls blown off above their beady black eyes.


Klash recognized Ramone Parker and his crazy piecemeal wag as soon as he saw it powering down the dune toward the ruins.
"I'll be nuked! Parker, you are the man!"
There was a tall Gila mutant with a spear crouching on the cargo cover. Klash knew about him by reputation. Max was the best trained warrior on the Alvarez payroll, Simon must have sent him with a sec crew. The uniformed RPK gunner didn't look familiar; but if he was chosen by the Motor Chief for an rescue party, odds were he was a well hardened fighter.
Klash flipped the bolt back on his Druganov and watched the buggy charging at the ruins. He couldn't detect the crystals electrochemical presence, but he could sense Dawn Rodriguez reaching for the wheel. Before he could decipher the impulses, the top mounted RPG battery sent a tight cluster of high explosive warheads into the cement wall. The stickies had reacted to the fire in their typical manner, rushing to the fire in order to thrust and bounce to the beat of their own drumming hearts. The exploding concrete shrapnel took quite a few down.
As Ramone charged the settling cloud, Klash sensed the scout's frustrated dash pounding. Something was going VERY wrong. The lightly armored wag veered north as the vehicle crew unleashed a hail of rage and lead at the waves of stickies, removing a third of the monsters from the land of the living.
Klash smelled the moment when the pack started moving to get ahead of the scout buggy as it circled around the ruins. They wanted to get ahead of the turning wag to ambush it.
"Not today." He said aloud as he loaded the HE warhead into the RPG-7. Klash checked the range finder and adjusted the targeting sight of the launcher. He could read the intentions of the pack to swarm the passing rescue party from the cover of some tangled I beams. As a group of nine piled up on the south side of the twisted steel skeleton, Klash sent the rocket arcing into the middle of the largest grouping.
The red sparkling hood caught the blazing sun, reminding him of the light show put on by the crystalline prisms that had been there the day before.


Dawn loaded two fresh magazines into the twin Makarov pistols. She was liking the way the guns timing worked as a pair, but she needed to adjust her own. She had been too eager, used twice as many rounds as needed for one chill. It isn't a contest, she reminded herself, be more selective. The auto guns had gone off line with the least convenient time possible, and now Ramone Parker was improving a quick plan B.

"Want me to go wide, partner?" Ramone asked.

"No way, bro," Dawn smiled and rose back up through the window, standing on the seat as she snapped her tether line onto the top weapons rack, "two of us are packing short range."
She let out a shrill laugh and fired a shot at a stickie, who was standing on a square pillar of steel enforced concrete until her bullet struck it in the shoulder. The spindly limbed mutant hopped down.
"Hey, is it me," Dawn yelled at the outriders, "or are these stickies triple smart by stickie standards?"
"You be surprised how crafty they can be," Max called over his powerful shoulder and noticed as he spoke his next words that she had ditched her leggings and battle kilt look for a tight micro mini, "if they are smart enough to get this far.... They don't... Is that prewar?"

Peter smacked the ceiling. "Stay snapped up there! Santos on the ropes!"
The banter was ceased in time for the comrades in arms to catch an RPG streak into a twisted hulk of support beams. Sticky strips of stickie skin, meat and bones exploded skyward from the explosion, mixed with splinters of salt and wind corroded steel.

Ramone jerked the wheel hard, everyone in and on the Parker Special screamed profanities, but it had corrected their path.
They had adapted their strategy on the fly, and the stickies almost got the drop on them. There was a humility that hit them all when they realized that the man they were sent to rescue had saved their bacon. The last wave of stickies proved it as they erupted from the edge of the ruins. If Ramone had not been forced to turn by the grenade, they would have been plowing through the mutie ambush.

Klash shouldered his SVD and brought down three more stickies with shots to their heads.
It was hard to miss them against the dark cloud of smoke.
The injured, stumbling remnants had regrouped and come whooping and whistling from the dusty killing field. The ape like stickie with the bulging fore arms was walking on hands alone. Around it were seven more of the gibbering menaces. They seemed to be confused about the losses, where were the others?
Klash sensed that they were going to charge the wag head on, so he swapped the sniper rifle for the AKM and started firing bursts to attract their attention. They spotted him and charged. Klash let the emptied magazine fall away and slid a full one into place. He smiled at the pulsing chaos as he fired a couple of burst at the palm walker with the busted knee.
He detected the neurochemistry of the rescue team approach. He stopped at the edge of the salt flats and fired two bursts into the fastest one left in the pack.

The scout wag drove between the mutants and the young man at the bottom of the large dune. Gomez and Corona blasted away the last mutants, who fell next to one another on the heat cracked salt crust. Dawn was sitting cross ankle on the roof, her nervous system crackled with her intention.
Klash laughed and shook his head as the vehicle passengers climbed out. Max told the ville sec men and Dawn to fan out and sweep the perimeter. Parker drove the buggy up to the camp after Max hopped down.
Klash nodded to Max, who saluted and shook his hand. The two of them walked up the slope, talking in the hand sign battle speak of the mutant tribe.
"No," Klash hung his head, "I don't know anything about any scorpion men."
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11/23/2014 4:11 AM
___The Harpy___

The Freak watched the events of the battle on his screen.
He was getting annoyed. Danby was running late.
"Damn him!" He hissed at the map box, the red signal blip from the tiny transmitter he had planted on the motorcycle was stationary less than ten miles from the ruin.
"What in the hell is that little snake trying to pull now?"

The hooded man rose from his padded aluminum chair. The microwave oven on the other side of the lab chimed to let him know that his lunch was ready. He walked past the stainless steel surgical tools and operating tables to the appliance.
"Pizza rolls... " he muttered to himself, "gotta get more pizza rolls soon."

He pulled a covered plate from the microwave and walked over to the Laszlo field generator and poked Pico, who jerked and screamed in response. He cackled as he walked back to his chair, pushing a golden brown rectangle stuffed with tomato paste and cheese into his mouth.
He would have to demonstrate to Harker Danby that noncooperation had harsh consequences, teach him that he still had things to loose, painfully.
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11/23/2014 3:16 PM
___The Convoy Camp___

The first thing that the Motor Chief saw when he opened his eyes -he had feigned unconsciousness for several seconds -was the back lit ceiling of the elevated platform shelter that he'd been moved to. His vision was a bit blurred, his muscles didn't want to do any movement yet. There was the smell of black beans cooking, barbecued iguana and cilantro leaves filling the tent. He wasn't restrained, curiously enough, and he saw his own holstered Makarov (his had been one of ten made bearing a pressed brass thunderbird logo for the tenth anniversary of the uprising and given by Baron Hadron to the sons of the Dons who managed the ville and rancheros) hanging from a peg next to his head.
"Chief," a female voice, comforting, softly spoke to him from across the tent, "take it slow, sir. You're safe."

Simon didn't recognize her voice, but he saw her uniform and patches and instantly felt a great relief. The young woman was one of the ball gunners from the northeastern gates. She looked sharp despite the hell night the they had been through. She was, typical for birdcagers, a bit shorter than most sec guards. The turrets were claustrophobic and made the gunner a visible target in battle. Her soft demeanor was surprising given the iron nature of her job. The Motor Chief knew by the way she had her tether lines snapped to the harness -in tight folds tucked into the straps- that she worked for Sarge Corona. It suddenly occurred to him that he had sent a rescue team with his son attached to the sec escort crew.
"What's your name, soldier?" Simon asked, rolling on his side to sit up.

"Gunner Jennifer Gutierrez, sir."

"What in the shock hit me, Gutierrez? It felt like a brick bat." Simon rubbed his back where he impacted on the ground.

"That was Hector Munoz, Chief. And he feels terrible over it. We thought you might be one of..."
"One of the bandits who was about to hit us before the snatch bats swarmed us, yes" the Chief finished for her, "I don't blame him. Is it just you two left?"

"There are two heavy machine drivers, Sanchez construction ladies. They are pretty rattled by, well, everything that they heard. Mister Munoz saved all three of us, but he thought it best to keep them in the other tent given the state of the corpses." Jen reported the facts about how the Durango born scout masked their scents from the mutant bats and the morning events.
Simon looked at his boots, thinking about what to do next.

"Okay, Gunner Jennifer Gutierrez," he stood and grabbed his gun and tool belt, "We got work to do."
He had to sit down right after he spoke. His head ached and vision blurred.

Jen stepped to his side and bent over to check out the large swell on his brow.
Hector and I have already cleared bodies from the camp ring, sir. He is going to ask one of the machine drivers to use the dozer to cover their remains after lunch. They are soaked in bat piss, nothing is going to eat them for another day or two yet."

"Ok," Simon agreed, "it's what I would do. I'm going to rest a bit."

Jen nodded her head and smiled, her deep brown eyes looked even darker under her military cap. "I will bring you some lunch as soon as it's ready, sir."

Simon leaned back and shut his eyes. The last thing he heard before drifting off was the young woman stepping out through the door flap. Sleep came easy, and it was fast. The aching Motor Chief was badly beaten, but he knew that he would heal.
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11/25/2014 12:40 PM
Hector unhitched the Painted Pony's heavy tow chains from the ragged canvas panel that he'd been using to move the blood drained bodies and heads to the north side of convoy ring. The pale husks still wreaked of the highly concentrated urine, he had to wear a gas mask to protect his eyes and airways from the heavy ammonia fumes. Some of the faces of the dead had scratches and claw punctures in their cheeks, others were merely locked in pristine visages of undeniable horror. Hector covered the heads with cot blankets and torn sections of shelter canvas.
All but three of the elevated tents had been destroyed by the attacking snatch bats, the kitchen tent and two barracks shelters. The latrines had been partly collapsed by a dead snatch bat, but two of the enclosed stalls on the end were still standing secure. Hector found the squeezed and broken body of the survey team combat medic, Rita, and her head, less than thirty yards from the busted up toilettes. She had been dragged into the brushy scrub by her ankles, her body already limp. Hector discovered her head resting a few feet away facing the body.

Had she, he found himself asking, watched as the bat crushed the blood out from her neck? A morbid question, more so given the stainless steel scalpel sticking forth from her eye socket. Her feet had recycled soft plastic flip flops on them, over her socks, and her holster was empty. There was no sign of her Makarov pistol. Somebody had murdered her before the attack, and Hector had only one suspect: the 'helpless' damsel that he, himself, brought into the camp.
Hector followed the foot tracks of Rita's assassin back to the latrine stand, saw the slit wall panel. He could see where Mouse, if that was her real name, had planted her foot to throw the blade. He saw where Rita had fallen and her footwear hijacked. This would not go unavenged, he swore to himself after saying a prayer for the pretty young medic, for her peace and her forgiveness.

It had taken hours to haul the remains of the human casualties on the makeshift sled, Hector was not as respectful with the remains of the dozen or so mutant carcasses; he dragged them by their ankles in groups of three to a ditch between two fallen billboards, planning to burn the stinking beasts later. But that would have to wait. Hector needed to take a break from this grim duty, clean up and eat, maybe take a short rest before finishing up.
After he put the hooked tow chains back in their storage box, Hector Munoz drove back to the camp, parking near the kitchen tent. He went straight to the pile of supply boxes on the platform next to the bunk shelter, found a clean uniform box then selected a generic khaki short sleeved shirt and desert camouflaged BDU cargo pants. His own clothing was swamped with sweat, and death stench of the decapitated cadavers. He put them in a plastic bag, they would be burned later with the mutie monsters in the ditch.

Jen was already portioning a healthy plate full for him when he entered the cooks tent. There was a second plate, covered with an upside down soup bowl, on the two foot wide counter. Jen turned, smiled warmly upon seeing him then held up the plate.
"You deserve to eat first after all you have done, Hector." She said.
Hector smiled, barely, and sat on a stool after taking the plate.

"The MC woke up, but he is not able to walk yet." Jen said.
Hector nodded and started wrapping his beans and iguana up in a corn tortilla with a spoonful of the salsa.

"He understands, he said you did what he would have done. I explained everything else to him," Jen smiled at him as she spoke, "and also how you saved us. You are a hero, Mister Munoz."

"No, don't say that," Hector told her, spooning more salsa onto the wrap, "please. Doing what you should, being a good person, is not heroic."

"No, Hector, not in a place like Juarez," Jen said, "where we have it soft enough to be that way. But out of the walls, out where you have been, you know it's not soft. It's easy to not be kind, or decent for that matter, in the tooth and claw wilds; but that is when it matters most."
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--
11/26/2014 2:11 AM
___ruined adobe ranch house___

Hark had found canvas corn sacks in a storage closet, a sealed twenty count of .45 shells for his Model 1911 in a kitchen drawer and a plastic cartoon mouse toy in a child's room. The two story adobe home had been a happy home. The home was obviously prewar construction, but he had never seen the likes of it in a civilian structure. Civies didn't build it this way, he knew that much history. No, not with steel plate enforced concrete walls and cemented in industry grade air ducts. It was like a bunker that got shoved into a house shaped mold.
The main house had been a three level six bedroom palace, but the third level had collapsed into the rear of the second -the second floor walls were still holding firm. The multiple car garage was locked up from the inside, or there was some secret switch somewhere. He could have tried to crack it, like he learned to do in his scavenger days, if he had brought along the bag of pipe bombs. This place might just be good to keep in his mental map for later, he thought, as a fall back spot. The two other structures inside of the walled in fortress like courtyard were burned down long houses. Hark knew a bunk house when he saw one. Whoever lived here had around twenty men from the look of the remnants of the bed frames. Either this had been a prewar drug baron digs, or it was a bastard genius secret military camp. Either way, that garage was probably untouched.

Hark stood in front of the garage door, his looted scraps at his side stuffed into a corn sack. He touched the heavy steel door, tapped it. He hit it hard with his palm, the door was definitely more than six inches thick, maybe even a foot. He thought again of the explosives that he had chosen not to bring, they could not punch through this. Maybe he would get Mouse to help with finding out if there was a hidden switch once they had rested up, she was good with puzzle games on that old game box in Paso. Maybe he could get everyone to relocate. Maybe start a legit operation again.

"You thinking of setting up house, Danby?" A voice said from behind him. Hark spun on his left and drew his .45 with his right hand in a blur of speed. His arm movement was singular, fluid. The barrel was pointed into the face of the Freak.

"You think I didn't know you was there, Freak?" Hark said, "You don't know who I am."

"Oh no," the hooded man smiled and let out a sigh, "I suppose you really got the drop on me. Please, don't shoot me, not when we have been getting along so well. My friend..."

"We. Ain't. Friends." Harker said, keeping his arm straight, the business end of the 1911 pointed directly at one of those coldly glowing eyes.

"I beg to differ, young man. Why, you have made quite an impression on me, Danby. You and Jim's tasty little daughter there. How'd you break that sweet little box in without her old man stringing you out for the stickies?" The Freak let his teeth show through his satanic smile as he said the words. Hark knew he was trying to push his buttons.

"I don't have patience for your shit, say your piece and go." Hark said.

"Harker Danby," the dark robed devil half laughed with his words, "I want to give you something, a gesture of my good will. I want you to got back down to the basement of this house. You saw the water heater, I presume, so simply kneel down and turn the little red knob to the 'OFF' position. Then push the top of the heater down. I can wait."

"You can go. Now." Hark told him, not backing down an inch.

"Very well, Mister Danby," The Freak resumed his mocking tone, "have it your way. I will go. Just walk out of the gate and wave when you are ready to talk business."

"Not gonna happen," Hark spat at him "so fuck off!"
The Freak bowed slightly, backing away with his hands open palmed so Hark could see the strange circular plugs mounted in his flesh. Harker Danby heard about 'borgs from old vids and games, and he knew that the human parts behind the eyes would die from a bullet just like a natural man.
After the demon stepped out the gates, he turned to his left and stepped out of sight. Hark didn't bother checking, knowing the Freak and his disappearing act well enough from the few things Ol' Jim let slip while drunk sometimes.
"Stay fucked off!" Hark yelled after him, then walked back into the house. He immediately closed and barricaded the door behind him with old, dried furniture.
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--
11/26/2014 12:23 PM
The upholstery on the prewar furniture was long rotted, leaving only the treated wood and metal frames. As Hark shoved the heavy couch skeleton against the door, the dust puffed off with each noisy push across the bare floor. He tried to lift it, but the wood felt like it was made of rock when he raised up one end.
"Must've taken," Hark grunted and strained to wedge it against the door frame, "two men."
"Baby," Mouse slightly echoed as she called from the industrial air duct over the table, "I can't turn around in here! What do I do if I crawl into a dead end?"

"Crawl backwards, darlin'." He yelled back to the vent cover.

"Okay." Mouse echoed back after a long pause.
Hark upended the matching chair frame backwards and shoved it under the large L shaped knob. The table was too heavy to move, made of the same type of wood, and it had a thick granite slab on top. There was no way he was going to try.

The bare bones of the decor were left. There was a millimeters thick accumulation of dust on every surface. But Hark knew it was beautiful once upon a time, in some lost golden age. There were ghosts of paint at the intersecting corners, still, in the spacious living area, clustered at edges -their wisps reaching out for the spectral brethren that still clung to the surface imperfections in the grey cement void. Three of the walls were yellow, pale sunflower; but the fourth, the one with the wall stairs, had been coated in a starburst orange.

Happy with the door, Hark turned his attention to the windows on either side of the entrance. The glass had shattered in the earthquakes but the bars held up despite a bit of corrosion. He yanked on each, testing the mountings and cement.
Satisfied with their security, he sat down on the table and linked the corn sacks together at the corners, with a set of plastic coated wire ties that he found when he dumped Sam's saddle bag, to make a sleeping palette on the floor. Sam had a bedroll consisting of two thick horse blankets and a prewar children's bed cover printed with a black and white checked flag pattern. It was far from cozy, but it would due for a few hours rest.


"Hey baby," Mouse yelled from deep inside the rat maze of interconnected airways, "I think I see a car or something through this vent."

"Okay." Hark yelled to her, then climbed up to the vent, using the table against the wall to stand on, "push the vent out and see if it's got good tires."

There was a loud metallic clang followed by several seconds of silence.

"Baby..." Mouse's voice was barely carrying through the ducts, "um... Hark! Hark!"
There was terror in her voice as she kept calling for help.

"What's going on in there? Answer me!" He yelled, pulling the Model 1911 from his gun belt. He was already trying to figure out if his lanky frame could make it around the ninety degree T intersection he saw ten feet down the narrow passage. There was no way he could make it in there.

"Stuck!" She answered.

"Stuck how??" He called down the metal vent system.

"Half way!" She screamed in frustration, "Now you come get me, Harker Danby! You get me outta here right now!"

Hark holstered the .45 and went back through the kitchen to check the basement again.
The roll down steel shutters over the sliding glass door to the backside of the house was half way up, allowing enough light to see down the stairs. Hark remembered the water heater, but at the time it was just another hunk of salvage to him.

"Damn your eyes, Freak." He whispered as he followed the instructions laid out for him by the hollow voiced abomination. When he pressed the top of the metal cylinder, the block of stone it was mounted to sank six inches into the basement floor and clicked in place. There was a mechanism of some kind, Hark heard the unmistakable clinking of chain and gears. Probably a weight and balance design, he thought.
There was a corroded rack of rusted garden tools on the wall nearest the garage that clicked and swung forward an inch, then the whole wall section spun on a pivot at the center. He heard Mouse in the distance, through the dark hallways and walls, her sobs bouncing off the plaster. Hark held up his mag light and looked down the musty smelling passageway, then started following the echoes.
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--
11/27/2014 9:07 AM
__Ville Juarez, The Greenhouses__

The coverall wearing farmers, warehouse and loading dock workers were just arriving for their duties, casually chatting about breakfast, the last luchas they watched, the upcoming anniversary celebration. The white shirted supervisor stood on the first of the landings, making a check as each man and woman passed through the bay door.
"Meeting." She said to each one as she checked a box by their names. She didn't have to tell them, it wasn't a surprise, they all saw Baroness Isabella Hadron from the gate as they arrived. She came to the food and botanical greenhouses often, encouraging them, asking about their families and making sure that the workers knew that the work they did was of great value to the barony's success. She praised the laborers as the saviors of civilization, they loved the pride that her words filled them with -pride that showed in the care they put into the work. Productivity and promptness to duty increased ten percent for several days after the Lady of Juarez visited, it was an effect that never ceased to amaze the management staff -even the plants responded.

As the workers filtered in for their morning meeting, Baroness Isabella and the three Ginas strolled to the greenhouse complex devoted to mutant flora. All of the fruit and vegetable greenhouses had been built with reclaimed office glass and sturdy aluminium alloy, on the leftover foundations of an unfinished prewar warehouse complex -only one had been completed when the atomic, biological and chemical bombs fell, unleashing destruction on the old world.

At the far end of the security fenced complex, past the food production gardens, was the rainbow striped neobotanical greenhouse. Light filtered through the stained glass walls and ceilings of the segmented structure, each room illuminated with a different color; except for the center gazebo, it was like a cathedral to botanical pursuits, a multicolored geometric design on each wall and roof section depicted corn, orange trees, a number of vegetable types, fruits and flowers. Wicker furniture, surrounded by clay potted ferns, flowers and elephant eared plants adorned the raised platform at the center of the sixty foot wide octagonal room. The areas next to the walls had recovered school cafeteria tables with microscopes, centrifuges and glasswork tubes and beakers used by the white coated laboratory scientists who worked with the variety of new post apocalyptic strains, looking for ways to use the mutated plants.

Don Alejandro Ortega, Professor Samara Indigo and Doctor Lisa Hammond were already busy with their morning routines in the neobiology lab. Don Ortega was sitting on a stool, peering into a microscope and taking notes as the two ladies in white coats explained as simply as possible what the magnified image meant.
"The toxin chemically unzips from the oily molecules." Doctor Hammond said.
"And," Samara Indigo added, "if we had more powerful centrifuges, we should be able to better separate it from the heavy oils."

Don Ortega stopped writing and looked up.
"I knew, yes," he shook his head slowly and said, "somehow, something like that was coming up. I knew it when you two asked me to be here so early, but I came anyway. Now, I wish I'd stayed in bed. Guzman is still being paid for fixing up the computers that I bought you. I will have to trade my ass to have his people fabricate the parts."

"Don Ortega," Professor Indigo plead her case, "the industrial sector Dons would be hard pressed to find a better machine oil than this. Doctor Hammond talked to a mechanic at The Big Garage, he is willing to build it for nine thousand cornies. Guzman would charge..."

"Twice that, yes." He interrupted, holding up his hand. "And how much will Sanchez charge for disposing of the neurotoxic wastes? There goes an arm and a leg."

Doctor Hammond was about offer a suggestion that she, herself could use it in the neobiology lab of the baronial zoo; but Lady Isabella Hadron stepped up to the platform, seemingly from nowhere, with one of her bodyguards -the other two were standing next to the door -startling her into silence. Unnatural thing, Hammond thought, how does she do that?
The baroness smiled as she put her arms out to hug Don Ortega, who was already rising to welcome her. "Al, my dear boy," she warmly hugged him and asked, "may I offer a suggestion?"

"My Lady," he bowed and said, "I welcome your council, always. Please."

She smiled at Hammond, hiding her mutual feelings perfectly. "House Hadron will take care of disposal. It is a baronial responsibility to maintain the safety of our citizens. The oil will pay for itself in a short time, and the economic benefit for the barony justifies the expense."

Damn her, Doctor Hammond thought, she knows.

"Lady, I would be forever in your debt...." Ortega tried to thank her.

"No, no, Alejandro," Isabella said, "my husband and I are in YOUR debt, always. Just have Samara write a protocol for handling this poison safely. I will make sure that Eduardo has our hazmat crew follow it to the letter."
Lady Hadron smiled at the white coated Doctor even though her antennae detected the unnaturalness of the wires and circuits attached to Hammond's nervous system along her spine.
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--
11/29/2014 5:00 PM
___The Convoy Camp___

After a lunch of corn tortilla wrapped iguana and black beans, grown on the Durango farms and rancheros, the Motor Chief was able to move and walk again. Hector showed them the scalpel recovered from the medic, Rita, and shared his suspicion of the rescued girl, Mouse, being the assassin.
"I didn't find a body for her, but there I followed the tracks to a dead biker who had been shot in the head by a third person, probably a man by the boot print size. The bats got to his body too." Hector said.

"Most likely," the Chief agreed, "but I doubt that they make it far on whatever was left in the other bike's fuel tanks. We have other problems to deal with first."

"I know, Chief," Hector said, "and again, I am very sorry for that hit."

"I understand, Mister Munoz. Let's forget it and move on to getting us out of here." Simon told him, patting him on the shoulder to show he bore no grudge.

Typical to his "hands on" ethic, he spared the construction workers from having to drive the bulldozer to cover the long stack of bodies of the lost expedition team. Seventy-three sec men and specialist crew, consigned to the sand and dust from which they came, crushed and squeezed to feed the devouring horde. But even with the five foot high mound of yellow to pale orange desert dirt piled on the corpses, the stench of the snatch bat urine still slithered up between the silicates and ash particles.
Hector's apology did help with the sting of the AKM stock shaped, blue-black bruise across his chest; but Simon Alvarez knew that it was going to be days before he fully recovered from the violent forced dismount. Certainly wasn't the first hit the mechanic and engineer ever took, but it was one of the hardest. The hot sun was bearing down in the late afternoon,so the survivors resigned themselves to the tent, taking turns on watch while the others rested.

Jen knew her brother's fate, and the Motor Chief related his heroic effort to save the command trailer technical crew, careful not to be unnecessarily graphic about the details. It did not take away the pain, but it was inspiring to know that he lived up to the ville sec pledge of sacrifice, valor and honor to the end.
"I am proud of him. Sarge always said he had more heart than anyone else on the wall, and he proved him right." Jen said before taking her siesta with Hector in the tent, "Thank you, Chief."

The afternoon drug by without event other than the passing of jackalope herds, who avoided the smell left by the bats by a wide range -the mutated rabbits wanted nothing to do with the super sized predators. By three o'clock, all well rested and ready to hear Alvarez's plan.
Jen would accompany Hector to track down, and recall the rescue team and missing scouts at the salvage sight. The Chief and machine operators could drive the three battered big trucks, hauling as much salvageable wreckage and the smashed wags as the trailers could safely carry back to Ville Juarez. It would take the whole of the next day and half of the day after, the Chief estimated, to get the damaged big trucks back; but it should be, they all agreed, a fairly safe journey since the Paso Park bandit gang would not be there to make trouble. Hector and Jen spent the last daylight hours searching for sage to burn on the camp fire later, to keep the bats at bay. Alvarez supervised the recovery of the ball turrets and busted escort technical trucks and scout buggies.

Dinner consisted of beans and iguana meat, the staples of the ville diet, with a green chili sauce. As the sun set, the scout set fire to the pile of snatch bat carcasses in the ditch between the fallen prewar billboards before returning to the, now smaller, camp site for the evening. The smell kept everything else away from the area, mutant predators and prey animals alike. Hector and Jen took the first two watches, as a precaution, but nothing was coming near that ammoniated death stench.
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--
11/30/2014 12:47 AM
___Fort Geronimo___

Dawn Rodriguez led the two ville sec on a sweep around the still burning ruins, policing the spent brass shell casings along the route for reloading at the ville munitions shop. The incendiary warhead of the RPG had set something in the ground ablaze, a column of twisting smoke rose high and to the East as it dissipated on the wind.

"That's going to be very visible, for a long way. Boys," Dawn said to Pedro and Juan, "better stay snapped tight."
"The only loose one I see is this bitch, Pedro." Gomez whispered to the younger sec man.
"Peter, bro. My granddad was Peter. Honoring the name, okay Juan?" Peter asked.
"Oh, cool, Peter. No disrespect. And call me Gomez, there's like twenty Juan's in West Juarez."
"Shut up and keep your eyes peeled," Dawn snapped at them, "droolies. If another pack of stickies sees that smoke, we are gonna be in the shit again, and I am not a babysitter for green horned ville brats."
Peter and Gomez both flipped out their middle fingers in a synchronized double eagle salute at her back, but kept quiet as they followed her around the jagged walls and rubble.
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--
11/30/2014 11:53 AM
Ramone pulled up next to the shelter/blinder, opposite the Rosanna buggy, and shut down his wag. The sun was burning yellow, and so was his rad counter on the dash. The four inch wide, half inch thick device had a color divided indicator wheel that turned the warning level to a clear plastic window on the face. It was prewar tech, sold to the Mexican military on the cheap by the U. S. Army -who had upgraded their own radiation measuring equipment in the mid 1990's.
Ramone Parker had never been this deep in the Sonora. He, and most scouts, wanted nothing to do with the region because of the tick bands of radioactive ash and dust that snaked from north of the border down to the former Mexican state of Durango. Only a few explorers had dared push this far into the Sierra Madre, even fewer returned. The ones who did make it back were sick from radiation poisoning and told horrific stories about the monsters who prowled the edges of the fallout zones. Ramone pulled out his log book and checked the glued in map on the inside of the back cover.
He estimated their location and made a notation of the yellow zone before folding it back in and tucking the log back into the leather and canvas pouch hanging over the head rest of the passenger seat. He had no intention of going this far again, ever. He could see the edge of orange at the bottom corner of the indicator, this was not a place to settle in for a long stay unless you wanted a batch of flipper babies for your next generation.

Max and Klash were sitting on the platform exchanging notes on the stickies. Neither of them could account for the strange behavior of the bunny eared hopper, or where it went.
"I sensed it, then I didn't." Klash told the long bodied mutant. "I thought it was one of you who chilled the little freak."

Max shook his head in the negative. "No," he said, "I saw it. But it hopped behind a group of the larger ones before Corona zipped them off with the RPK."
"That's one hell of a trick." Klash said and shrugged.

"I got an idea about this." Ramone announced.
"Parker!" Klash greeted him by raising the AKM in salute. "You saved my ass, Ramone. I owe you big time. So, what do you think happened to Mister Bunny?"
"Not what, who," Ramone told him, "and it's the same who that has been sabotaging the communication relays you set along the way."

Ramone related the discovery of the smashed and stabbed electronic signal relay and the mysteriously appearing then disappearing boot prints.
"And whoever left it," Max added to the report, "he was a big man, heavy. Those prints sank deep."
"That is some tale, gentlemen," Klash said, "but I think I got an even more unbelievable one for your crew when they get back."
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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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