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Shadow World

Modified on 2011/10/18 11:44 by Kerrick Categorized as Books, Deathlands


   ... My suspicion is not only is the universe queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose... I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of...

   - John Burdon Sanderson Haldane
   Possible Worlds, 1927



   The book starts off in the town of Moonboy, a former suburb of Salt Lake City. It's the middle of the day, and very hot. Things are slow... until the air shimmers in the middle of the main street and a figure in black insect-like armor appears. A second one quickly appears beside the first. The inhabitants, strongly prejudiced against muties, immediately open fire on the figure.
   Up in the second floor of the local gaudy, a scav named Grub Hinton hears the racket and stops his activities to see what's going on. The two figures raise laser rifles and promptly eliminate everyone on the street. Three more of the invaders appear, one of them toting a silver cube on wheels. This one takes a sample of flesh from a still-living villager and dumps it in the cube; after a moment, two of the people start spraying foam over everyone - living or dead - in the street, dissolving the bodies. Grub quickly gets dressed and vacates the area.
   Meanwhile, Ryan and his friends are fleeing along a dried floodplain ahead of a band of cannies. They have a family with them, some survivors who fled a cholera plague in the nearby ville of Brigham. The father, Benjy, is acting as rearguard along with Jak (who is currently nowhere to be seen). Benjy hears a cry for help and goes to investigate. There's a lone woman, apparently wounded, lying in the open. She claims to be from Brigham, but when he gets closer, he knows she's lying. Unfortunately for him, it's too little, too late - the other cannies sneak up behind and kill him.
   Jak and Ryan hear the single gunshot from Benjy's shotgun. Jak quickly finds the cannies feasting on Benjy's body; he opens fire, killing several, then kills three more with knives. Ryan and the others come along not long after. Ryan directs everyone into a small copse, a wooded island, to await the cannies' attack.
   It doesn't take long. When everything's said and done, seventeen cannies are dead, while the group suffers only minor injuries. Ryan loses his Steyr rifle, however - he'd hidden it under leaves, since it would have slowed him down in the trees, and the cannies' leader happened to find it. Ryan resolves to get the family to the next ville (Perdition), then hunt the rest of the cannies down and recover his rifle.
   Meanwhile, Grub has taken up residence in one of Perdition's gaudies, where he tells the story of the strange invaders over and over for free drinks. Four people - three men and a woman - come over and ask him to tell it again. The leader introduces himself as the Right Reverend Gore. He has an idea - if Grub takes them to Moonboy, they can kill these strange outlanders and sell their gear for major jack. Unfortunately for Grub, the cannies aren't really interested in cutting him in - just cutting him up.
   Not long after they leave, the companions arrive in Perdition. After dropping off the family, Ryan and the others head to the same gaudy, where they ask the bartender about the cannies. He tells them where the group was headed, so they leave post-haste.
   They're most of the way to Moonboy when the "rocks" around them start uncoiling - they're actually huge rattlers. They manage to fight their way free with blades and hurry on. A couple miles further on, they encounter a rainfall of dead birds - an entire flock just falls from the sky, dead. Not much further ahead, they find the cause: a huge area of sulfur springs, spewing toxic gasses into the air. They climb a ridge and see Moonboy below. The place appears deserted, but the figures are still there, and they have more equipment - an ATV, what appears to be a helicopter, and a derrick on a trailer. Ryan also spots the cannies coming up the main road.
   Two of the cannies circle around behind the houses, intending to get a flanking position on the outlanders, while the woman (Giggly Jane) goes in to distract them and Gore uses the Steyr to shoot them from afar. It's a good plan, but they don't account for the outlander's equipment - the two men run into a field of laser mines that chop them into bits, and the outlanders ignore Jane entirely. The bullets from Gore's gun simply bounce off their armor. Jane runs off when the shooting starts and promptly stumbles into the same minefield.
   The leader, Colonel Gabhart, climbs into the helicopter to capture Gore - while he's outside their perimeter, he might hit something important. He chases Gore into the hills and cuts off one arm with a laser before catching the cannie. The pilot them spots the companions, who are hiding nearby. Ryan tells the others to flee while he covers their retreat. The pilot doses him with sleep gas and rounds him up as well.
   He's taken back to the camp, where Gore has already been tested for genetic purity. They find out he has oozies and spray foam all over him, whereupon he's eaten alive by the carniphages in the foam. Ryan tests clean, so he's left alive but held prisoner. Not long after, another gate opens and a missile comes through on the back of a huge truck. Ryan is shoved through by one of the outlanders, Nara Jurascik, who comes with him.
   They end up in Shadow Earth, a parallel dimension. Dr. Huth explains what's going on - the people on this Earth accidentally found a way to reach the other Earth while doing chron-temp research. This new earth never saw the holocaust - the population has been expanding for the last century, until it's exceeded 100 billion. There's nothing left - all other species have been wiped out, and humanity is slowly dying. The leaders of the megacorps (the FIVE) have a plan to lead a hand-picked group of people to the new Earth and repopulate it, and Ryan is the key - his knowledge will be invaluable.
   With that in mind, he's hustled into a vehicle with Huth and Nara. He's taken to talk to the FIVE, who ask him about his world, then they head to the medical complex. Along the way, though, they're attacked and forced to leave their vehicle, which is destroyed by a rocket. Nara takes Ryan across several lanes of traffic, where they're captured by a group of masked men.
   Back in Deathlands, JB comes up with a plan. He sends Krysty and Mildred on a flanking maneuver (coincidentally, the same path the two cannies took), while he and the others go up the main road to fire on the missile. Krysty and Mildred fall afoul of the laser mines, but Krysty lets off a psychic pulse that disables them (but also puts her into a coma). JB fires off a burst and demands Ryan back, or he and his friends will shoot the missile full of bullets. The outlanders say they can't produce him that quickly (and have no intention of doing so at all), so JB opens fire.
   Ryan, meanwhile, is taken down several levels to Gloomtown - the slums of Shadow Earth. He soon learns that their captors - mercenaries - are actually in league with Jurascik, and all of them are serving one of the FIVE, Mitsuki. They head further down to the Slime Level, an area below Gloomtown where nothing lives except cyanobacteria. There, they drive the truck into a waiting tractor trailer with a specially-prepared environment that filters out the slime. Once inside, Nara contacts Mitsuki and relays the mercs' demands - they want to go to Shadow Earth, along with enough gear to surive. Mitsuki agrees.
   JB, Doc, and Jak fire enough rounds at the missile to damage it, but not disable it. Annoyed, Gabhart takes the chopper up to find them, while another man takes the ATV out on the ground. JB leads the group out into the mudflats, hoping the poisonous gas might affect the helicopter pilot. They're attacked by a horde of mutie coyotes and fight them off while Gabhart watches. He was originally going to just kill them all, but he's struck by their tenaciousness, so he gasses them instead and piles them all in a net to bring back to camp.
   While Ryan and his captors-cum-saviors are hiding out in the trailer, FIVE's forces are marshalling outside. A sniper shoots the outside guards, then other soldiers place limpet mines on the sides of the trailer. Those inside hear what's going on and climb into their APC and bust out of the trailer just before the mines go off. They flee, but are chased by three other APCs, which fire laser cannons at them. Several of the mercs inside their APC are killed before one of the pursuers cuts the wheels out from under them. They leave the vehicle behind and flee on foot. They hit the ramp, and Damm (the mercs' leader) drops a satchel charge behind them, blowing up one of the APCs as well as the remainder of the surviving mercs on their side. They hide in the condensation layer, an area of mist between the slime level and the upper levels.
   Dr Huth, meanwhile, is being taken to task by the FIVE for losing Ryan. He knows that what they've been telling everyone about the migration to Shadow Earth is crap - they're not taking anyone but themselves - so he urges his team to bump up the time on the next transfer. He's going to go across himself and seal the wormhole behind him.
   Damm and Nara stab each other in the chest with huge hypodermics which counteract the effects of the cyanobacteria, which they've all inhaled, then Nara does Ryan. They take some limpet mines and slap them on several soldiers hanging on the sides of the APCs, then they get the doors open on one and yank out everyone inside. Once they gain control, they fall into line behind the first APC long enough to get out of the condensation zone. The crew chief catches on when they don't respond to radio calls, though, and orders his gunner to fire on them. The gunner does so, but he also vaporizes thousands of people in the process.
   Enraged, the crowd tips the APC over, hauls the remaining soldiers out, and tears one of them to pieces. They're about to do the same to Nara, Damm, and Ryan when someone recognizes Ryan (his face has been plastered all over the billboards). At the same time, the crowd starts chanting "Thrill Bill!" The man himself appears and takes control of the trio, along with two of the soldiers. The soldiers are executed, and Bill tells the fugitives that he can get them to the Totality Concept complex, which has the gate back to Deathlands.
   Ryan isn't willing to accept his help, but he's forced to do so when more APCs and soldiers appear, randomly firing lasers. He and his new friends grab up as many weapons as they can and flee downward to the bowels of the building, chased by the soldiers. They stop several times to leave presents behind, then Bill takes them into some old deserted ruins and through a wall to a neighborhood that was sealed off years ago. From there, they find an entrance to the sewers, which leads to a freeway. They hijack a vehicle and take it down the road to a cargo elevator that leads to the TC complex, but instead of riding the elevator up, they climb out on top of it. From there, they have a long climb to the top, where they emerge through a trapdoor onto the rooftop. They spend the night there and head out at first light.
   They make their way to the TC complex roof, deal with the guards, and blast their way through the skylight. From there, they head down to the gate room, chased by a squad of soldiers. Thrill Bill is hit by a laser, his legs amputated, so he stays behind to hold them off. Nara, Damm, and Ryan run across the bridge to the gate (which Huth has kindly powered up, intending to take it himself) and push the bridge off then jump through, leaving Huth behind. When they get to the other side, they send the missile back through and the gate slams shut.
   Huth gets the soldiers to raise the bridge and races across to get to the gate before it closes, but he's too late - the missile comes through from the other side, crushing him to paste.
   With the gate sealed, Gabhart and his people have no reason to fight the companions anymore, so they set their captives free. Everyone sits around a fire and eats dinner, then they part ways on neutral terms.

  
Copyright
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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