Bitter Harvest

By Brad Marsh

This one is for Den, for urging me to keep playing in this wonderful playground Mark has made for us all. Thanks for reminding me why I do this. I owe you one Pal.

The morning is lonely out in the Outlands. In a place where most that call it home scrape out a meager existence under the threat of the Barons, and their Mag forces, it seems more appropriate to call their home the Wastelands, and not the Outlands. Many excepted the world they lived in because it was the hand dealt to all Outlanders. There had been a time when those that lived in the Outlands had been free to roam or settle down and raise a family. But now that was just a dream that had died when the program of unification was brought about. Now there was nothing left to think about beyond surviving daily life, the future meant nothing to most that live out their days in the outlands. The man standing on the rock bluff over looking a scattering of trees surrounded by endless miles of waist high prairie grass knew, these simple fact's, as did all outlanders.

Tyler Craye stood looking out into the desolation of the Kansas Outlands. His eyes on the sky above and the far way horizon as he drew a long drag on his hand rolled cigarette. He savored the feeling as the smoke filled his lungs and nicotine began coursing through his body. He was alone as he had been for much of his life, he was use to the isolation he lived in, but he never got use to the feeling of death watching him as the hour of 4am came upon him. It was the time the sick and old let go of there hold on life. It was the time infants took their last breaths before SIDS swept in to claim them. It was the hour when the human body reached its lowest levels, heartbeats slowed, and breathing reached a level almost too low to measure. It was a time when one saw things they could not explain, like black triangle shaped UFO's streaking across the heavens. This black Triangle shaped ship was the reason Craye had come to an isolated bluff in the Kansas Outlands. Aliens invading the world was something only a child or fused out stupe would believe in, he had no time for such things. But then this strange ship appeared again almost a month later, this time it flew along at ground level, and at a slower rate of speed. It again appeared at 4am, as if those piloting this strange craft knew the significance of the 4am hour. That thought scared Tyler Craye, more than anything else did at that moment.

He wasn't sure what the mysterious pilots of the craft wanted, but he knew he needed to find out, because it was only a matter of time before what they wanted set those same pilots on his scent. In the Outlands other people's troubles had a nasty way of infecting the lives of those who tried to mind there own business. He wanted to know what he was up against before he infection the strange craft represented infected him. He knew his survival depended on his being able to fight those that controlled the strange craft. In the Outlands there were only to kinds of people, Killers and victims. Craye had never been a victim and he had no plans to become one anytime soon.

He knew he was getting in way over his head as he flicked the remainder of his cigarette off into the darkness. He quickly took stock of his possessions. He was dressed in an assortment of homespun clothing and patchwork of furs. A battered M-16A-1 was slung tight across his back. A Navy combat knife was sheathed on his left hip, a .45 Caliber Colt 1911 was holstered on his right hip. A large rut sack at his feet held two days worth of provisions along with a blanket and a one-man tent. Satisfied he had everything he may need; he slide down the back edge of the outcrop and to the ground. He struck off northward in the wake of the strange ship and its unknown destination.

Twenty minuets later Craye came upon the ship. He had just come to the edge of a muddy embankment dotted with grass, coming with in sight of a small settlement called Deadwood, having taken it's name from the river that ran along the western edge of the township. Craye had only ventured to the collection of ragged tents and mud and grass huts a few times before. He only came when he needed food, trading furs with those in the settlement for what he needed. Then he would disappear out into the harsh territory of the Outlands. His first indication that something was wrong was in that first glimpse of the township stretched out before him. The normally bustling dirt streets filled with venders, whores plying their trade and packmen, where empty and silent. A single mangy mutt sniffed his way up the main drag searching for something to eat. That single dog was the only visible sign of life in the town. Craye drew his Colt 1911 from its holster on his hip as he slowly descended the embankment and entered the town. He barely entered the town when he the first puddles of blood. They where scattered through out the town, the streets, and doorways to tents. Sticky, shinny, pools of crimson, that attracted flies, and brought the scent of death on the wind. Craye head west through the town, towards the river.

He had set this course known that water was life in the Outlands. One could live without food for several days but without water one was as good as dead in two or three days tops. The river was the life-blood of the town, and if anyone were left in Deadwood they would be close to the river. Or so he hoped. He spotted the triangle shaped craft, as he reached the end of the main street, which was nothing, more than a dirt track lined with tents and huts. He ducked behind a wooden hut and took in the scene below in relative safety. The craft had landed along the bank of the river a large section of the hull on the right side had opened to reveal a large cargo bay. A squad of Mags held most of the town's residences at gunpoint near the opening to the Cargo bay. They had been separated in three groups, men, women, and children, which seemed to be anyone under the age of twelve. As a twelve year old boy name Calvin whose father traded with Craye was in with the group of men. Oddly his father was no where in sight though his, mother and sister where in the group of women.

The sight of Mags with the strange craft made Craye extremely uneasy. Their presence meant that one or more of the nine Barons was involved in someway. Even though the Barons rarely exacted there control over those with in the Outlands they and their Ville Mags were the most feared figures in the Outlands. He was pulled from his own thoughts as the Mags began singling out member of each group, who were placed some distance away from the rest of the towns people. It quickly became clear that those being separated from the other groups were the old and sick. The sound of booted feet on hard packed dirt drifted to him from somewhere to his right. He drew his combat knife and slipped inside one of the tents. He quickly scanned the interior of the small space, which was sparsely furnished with a single cot, a home table and two chairs. There was only a single flea infested fur blanket on the filthy stinking mattress. On the table was an oil lamp, a tin cup and box of self-lights. Craye slipped the self-lights into his pocket, leaving everything else. He moved to the back of the tent and with his knife made a tiny slit that he could peer through, in the rear wall of the tent. The street beyond was silent and dark. He was just about to pull away and check the street out front when two Mags stepped out of a tent, three down from his position and across the street. They quickly moved to the next tent along on the same side of the street. It was obvious they were searching for something or someone. They couldn’t be looking for him because he had only been in Deadwood for several minuets, and he’d been careful. Not to mention there were only two Mags doing the searching, if his presence had been discovered then whoever was in charge would have sent more than two Mags to hunt him down. Any less than a dozen would leave him with plenty of room to escape into the surrounding Outlands.

He gripped his knife tighter as he two Mags stepped back out onto the street. One said something to his partner, who laughed in reply. It was only then that Craye heard a second set of voices and more laughter coming from the street behind him. He moved to the doorway and squinted through the gaps between the two flaps, spotting two Mags only a single tent away from the one in which he was hiding in. Two Mags had been assigned to each street, and they looking for anyone left hiding in the tents and huts. Whatever was going on the Barons did not want any witnesses. Moving to the side of the tent facing that the second set of Mags were about to search, He made a straight slit down the side of the tent, parting the fabric with ease. When Both sets of Mags had disappeared inside there respective tents he slipped out into the narrow alleyway between the two tents and began moving back down the line of tents towards those that had been searched already.

He had gone roughly thirty yards, down the street on which he had seen the first pair of Mags when a shout sounded from his left on the main drag through the settlement, followed by the staccato roar of a Sin Eater on full auto. Sheathing his knife Craye drew his Colt and looked around for the source of the shouts. Bullets slammed into the dirt less than a yard from Craye’s position. That galvanized him into motion, as he broke into a headlong sprint towards an alleyway between two huts. He made it into the alley just as more 9mm rounds from at least three Sin Eaters bit at his heels. He flattened himself against one wall and fired several rounds from his Colt into the surrounding darkness. He waited for return fire but none came. He had no idea where the quartet of Mags was at the moment. But he had no doubt that he would be cut down by Sin Eater fire the moment he stepped back out onto the street. So he turned and began moving towards the other end of the alley. 

When he reached the end of the Alley he found himself facing the river with the Triangle shaped craft and the rest of the Mag force standing between him and escape. His only other option was to try and scale the western side of the embankment that stood on three sides of the settlement. But to do so would put his back to the town, leaving him vulnerable to the pursuing Mag’s Sin Eaters. He suddenly remembered something that his father use to say, When your left with no choices in a combat situation do the unexpected. It was something his grandfather had told Craye’s father, having learned it from a man named Trader. His Grandfather had ridden across the length and berth of the Deathlands in Traders war wags. Until one day he met a women in some small pest hole ville in Idaho and decided to settle down.

In that instance in the middle of a hostile ville filled with Mags he smiled. He turned and ran back down the alley, spotting a trio of Mags making their way towards the mouth of the alley, as he reached the end of the alley and erupted onto the street with a inarticulate cry of rage. The Mags in their black Polly-carbonate armor and helmets came to a stop in the middle of the street, raising their Sin Eaters all at once if there where all part of the same consciousness, but they didn’t fire their weapons. Craye didn’t return the gesture instead he hosed the three armored Mags with .45 caliber rounds, until the slide on his colt blew back empty. The rounds slammed into the chests of the three Mags making them stagger back several steps, but did not penetrating the trio’s armor.

Craye continued to sprint towards the trio, then he was behind them, before they could regain their balance. He slipped in between two tents, moving between them to the next street over. The sound of boots pounding across the dirt track behind him filling his ears. He came out onto the Main track in a full sprint, seeing that there were no Mags blocking his progress, as he headed back the way he had come into town. On the run he fished a fresh full clip from his pocket, reloading his empty hand blaster, and slipping the empty clip into another pocket. He’d made it Halfway down the street when two Mags came charging out of the shadows between two tents, their Sin Eaters spitting flame and death. White-hot agony erupted along Craye’s side, causing him to stumble, his colt spinning off into the darkness, as the dirt track came rushing up to meet his face. He glimpsed a pair of black boots inches from his face, before the darkness came rushing in to claim him.

Tyler Craye woke with a groan his eyes fluttering open to find that the sun had risen. He was still on the banks of the Deadwood River amid corpses and the wounded. He was staring up into the pale blue of a perfect cloudless sky. His whole body ached, along with a dull burning sensation along his ribs. With a low groan he slowly got to his feet, taking in the scattering of corpses. The few who were still alive would not remain alive for much longer. Glancing down he noted his knife had been taken, and his blaster was somewhere on the main drag. The corpses that littered the ground around him, had all been dispatched with a single 9mm round to the back of the head. Those that did not die instantly bleed to death in minuets.

The fact that there were half a dozen or so bodies with that last vestiges of life in them, meant that the strange craft with its Mag force had left no more than half an hour before, probably a lot less. In his condition he could not pursue the craft, but he needed answers. He silently hoped there were survivors in Deadwood that would be able to tell him what had happened. Because a quick inspection of those still the right side of the dark river, where to busy with the enigma of they’re own passing to be able to tell him much of anything. That left the town and the off chance that someone had evaded the Mag search of the town. What struck him, as strange was the amount of blood caking the ground along the riverbank and surrounding area. He could tell immediately that there was more blood around than what would have come from the corpses around him. He pushed those thoughts from his mind, as more immediate needs took precedence, like the need to become armed once more. A quick search of the corpses around him turned up no weapons of any kind on any of the corpses. Whoever had done the searches had done a thorough job of it. Unarmed Craye slowly made his way down the many drag in search of his Colt 1911.

He found it several minuets later, just inside an alleyway halfway down the street. It had obviously been over looked during the Mag withdrawal from the area. Checking the action, he smiled to himself, after finding the clip fully charged. He slammed the clip home and jacked a round into the chamber, before doing a tent by tent search. He found the man a few moments later. His name was Kevin Shaw, the man who Craye traded with each time he came into town. The same man whose son, daughter and wife, Craye had spotted in the group of town’s people gathered near the craft. None of them were among the corpses that litter the riverbank several hundred yards away. But the great amount of blood caking the ground around the riverbank did not necessarily mean they were still alive. Or that Kevin Shaw would ever see them again, in this lifetime. But Craye was not about to tell Shaw this. Instead he quickly and reassuringly explained that Shaw’s wife and son where not among the dead out on the riverbank and at least eighty percent of the towns people were unaccounted fore.

After calming the man, Craye asked, “ How much of what happened here did you see? “

Shaw swallowed several times before answering. “ I was out trapping about to make my way down and take my chances when I saw you on the ridge opposite me. You disappeared back towards the center of town and then Blaster fire broke out. I stayed put, waiting an hoping you’d be able to free the prisoners and that I’d be able to help you in some way. Two Armored Mags dragged you out to the craft ten minuets later. I lost all hope, because you had been armed with a hand blaster and you were taken down. Even after being hell on wheels and faster than the stories about you say. They took your knife from your belt and left you.”

“ I was shot in the chest, or so they though. I was only grazed along my side but they though I was dying so they left me behind to die, is the best I can figure. “ Craye explained. “ Did you see what happened to those they didn’t kill? “

“ No. “ Shaw replied “ Once they started executing their prisoners I slipped back into town. I had no wish to witness my family being slaughtered. “

“ I understand. But it still leaves the question of what happened to more than fifty people? From what I saw back there on the riverbank not everyone was slaughtered. It looked to me as if only the old the old and sick where executed. The healthy people like your family where taken in that ship somewhere. I can feel it. “

“ This was the Barons wasn’t it? “ Shaw asked, “ There were more than fifty Mags out there with that ship. “ 

“ Yes, and that’s why I want to find out what they were doing out there. I shot at those Mags earlier, which is an offense that cares a sentence of death if convicted, and yet I was left alive for some reason. I want to know why? “

“ How do you propose to find this ship? Your wounded, and in no condition to travel. If you go after this ship and by some stroke of luck you find it. What happens then? You’ll be so weak from blood loss that you’ll be no good to anyone. “

“ I have to try. “ Craye gritted through clenched teeth. “ There are fifty innocent people on that ship. You and I are the only two people alive that know the Barons took them and whisked them off somewhere. If it was me on that ship I’d want someone to find me.”

“ But why? I have family on that ship, but you have no one on that ship, and nothing to gain by getting into a firefight with those Mags again. You barely survived the last round you had with them and there were only half a dozen. There are more than four dozen on that ship. “

“ It’s all about Survival. Its only a matter of time before I or someone I care about gets swept up in whatever the Barons are doing. That’s why I’m doing this. “

“ Then you’re going to need more than just an old Colt 1911 to fight them with. “ Shaw replied as he stood up and moved to a large trunk along the back wall of the tent. He flipped the two brass latches and lifted the cover to reveal what lay inside. Inside was a small armory of weapons. A green army crate filled with an assortment of grens, plastic explosive and pencil timers occupied the bottom third of the trunk. Kevin reached inside the trunk and pulled factory new Winchester repeating riffle chambered for 30/30 rounds. A matching pair of Silver 9mm Beretta 92FS hand blasters in shoulder leather came next. The last thing that Kevin pulled out was a razor sharp kA-Bar Marine-fighting knife, along with several boxes of 9mm ammo and a case of a thousand 30/30 rounds. He laid it all out on the table for Craye to inspect.

“ This is some heavy shit. “ Craye rasped “ None of this is easy to come by in the Outlands. How did you get all this? The ammo alone is worth a fortune. “

“ Before I came to Deadwood I was a trader up around the foot of the Darks in Montana. I picked up most of this stuff from a group of Lakota Indians, who claimed they could get plenty more, where these came from. “

“ What the hell where you trading. “

“ Medical supplies. They had three pregnant women in their group so they needed what I had and they were willing to part with this small armory you see here. “

“ Alright but none of the caliber’s you have here will penetrate Mag armor.”

Without answering Kevin plucked a box of 9mm rounds from the table and with tossed them to Craye. “ Look at the box.”

Silently Craye read the box. In block letters it said ‘ Silver tipped armor-piercing rounds. 9mm caliber ’ That made Craye smile, for the first time since he had entered Deadwood. “ These even things out.”

“ Ok I have one other tip for you and it concerns the 30/30 rounds. “

“ Yeah. “

“ Those helmets the Mags wear. “

“ Yeah.”

“ The face plates are not bullet proof. They shatter if they’re hit with anything bigger than a .45 caliber round. The shards take out the Mags eyes, seconds before the slightly spent round cores into his head. “

“ Good to know. “ Craye replied “ Its nice to see that these Bastards have a fucking weakness.”

“ All I know about where the ship went is that a short time after I came back here I heard it fly off to the south, back the way it came from.”

Craye nodded as he slipped into the shoulder leather with the two silver Berettas snug in their holsters, his fur coat slipping comfortably over the whole thing. The kA-Bar Marine knife went in his left boot. A few grenades and the boxes of ammo went into his rut sack. The Winchester was slung across his back. His colt tied down on his leg.

“ I’ve got one more thing for you. “ Shaw said moving back to the trunk. “ I almost forgot these. “ He reached in and with drew several empty magazines for the M-16 and the Berettas.

“ Thanks, for everything, Kevin. “

  You can thank me by bringing my Family back to me alive. “ He replied as the two of them walked out into the growing dusk of the coming night. A whole day had slipped by without either of them noticing. But that didn’t bother Craye, because he moved better and faster in the darkness. The night was a whole lot more forgiving of a wrong move than the daylight. 

“ I’m going to do just that. “ Craye vowed. “ Or die trying.” With that he turned and slipped off into the darkness. Leaving Kevin Shaw with his thoughts and a small spark of hope that he would see his family alive again soon.

Two Days Later: The northern Missouri Outlands.

Tyler Craye knew he was close, he’d been wading through the dead for almost two days. Now he was so close he could feel it. He could almost taste the wave of death that had lead him to an isolated ville in Northern Missouri named Glenwood Pass. It sat on the edge of the mighty Mississippi, drawing steamboats and traders to its streets. Or at least that was the way it was before the Program of Unification restricted trade on all major waterways through out the Outlands. Now Glenwood Pass was nothing more than a fortified ghost town inhabited by barely a hundred souls, who made there living from the river. They were scavengers, fishermen, boat builders, and small time traders that the Barons ignored because they were so small they posed no threat to the trade agreements the Barons had established during the program of unification. For more than ninety years the Barons had left Glenwood pass to its own devices, until now.

Tyler Craye crouched just inside the fringe of the forest, roughly a hundred and fifty yards from the main gate to Glenwood pass. He silently watched the scene below him. The strange triangle shaped craft had landed just outside the main gate to Glenwood Pass, and unleashed its Mag force on the unsuspecting little Ville. It was the same as it had been back in Deadwood. Everyone was rounded up from with in the ville walls, and herded out to the ship. The healthy ones where loaded onto the ship and those that were old and sick were put aside to be executed by Mags just prior to the ships departure. Craye meant to see that no one died and that the ship did not leave the ground with its human cargo. He had watched this senseless act of violence play out twice since leaving Kevin Shaw and Deadwood behind. In that entire time he had been unable to verify whether or not Kevin’s Wife and children were still on the ship or if they were even alive. He was about to make his move and hopefully he would be able to rescue those on the ship from an uncertain fate. He had promised Kevin Shaw that he would try and rescue his family and he meant to see that done.

Drawing his matching pair of Silver Berettas, Craye moved along the fringe of trees towards the western side of the ville wall. He was hoping to make it into the Ville undetected. He knew he would be cut to shreds if he attempted a full frontal assault, against more than four dozen highly trained Ville Mags. But his chances of success increased greatly when he attacked from their flank. It was an hour off dawn as he slipped through the trees, towards his point of entry. He stopped and scanned the surrounding area for Mag sentries before breaking cover. He holstered his hand blasters before sprinting for the wall. He reached the wall and had scrambled over in the blink of an eye. His feet hit the soft packed earth with a dull watery squish. Crouched in the shadows he scanned the street he was on, as he drew his Berettas once more. He moved with the grace and silence of a hunting panther, as the shadows swallowed him up. He encountered the lone Mag only moments later.

He had just moved around the side of a run down building that served as the towns saloon, with in sight of the main gate, when he spotted the lone Mag moving along the street, sweeping the buildings for any remaining towns people. Craye Smiled to himself as the Mag drew closer because it was time to get some answers. He only hoped that the Mag moving towards him would be able to provide those answers. As the Mag moved across the mouth of the alley, Craye’s arm shot out and hooked around the armored neck of the Mag, pulling him into the darkness of the alley. The Mag fought against Craye until the helmet the Mag wore was ripped off and cold gunmetal came into contact with his cheek. Craye Showed the Mag the Silver Beretta, seeing the man’s eyes go wide with realization.

“ If you tell me what I want to know then you may make it out of this with nothing more than a headache and a bruised ego. Understand? “ Craye whispered menacingly. The Mag nodded twice in quick succession. “ Good. Know tell me about the triangle ship. I’ll know if your lying, I’ve been following you for two days now, since Deadwood. “

The Mags eyes widened again for the second time in so many minuets. “ You’re the one that was shot in Deadwood. It took half a dozen Mags to neutralize you. We all knew you weren’t just an ordinary Slagger. But no one knew who you were. “

“ That’s nice but I’m on a fucking time table here. “ Craye hissed “ I need to know about the people on the ship. Where are they being taken and why? “

“ We’re out here gathering fresh genetic material for the Barons. Without it they will age and begin to die. At least that’s what we’ve been told. We’re supposed to take the Aurora and her shipment to a set of coordinates in New Mexico. Some town called Dulce I think. “

“ Why are the Barons going to all this trouble. Why Outlanders not use the surfs in the Tartarus pits in the Ville. That’s the same as Outlanders here in the Outlands. Many of the people in the pits are Outlanders that were granted citizenship. Why aren’t they using them for their material? “

“ Because of the pits plagues and outbreaks. The material is tainted, and useless to the Barons. The Outlanders are subject to outbreaks far worse than the Pits have ever seen, but their immune systems are strong and healthy. This makes the Material perfect for the Barons uses.”

 Is this the Aurora’s first mission for pure material? “

“ No, its been out two other times before this mission. “

“ How many subjects are on the ship right now? “

The Mag hesitated for a moment, until Craye cracked the barrel of his Beretta across the man’s head. “ It’s hard to say. The last count put it over seventy. That was just after the Deadwood run. “

“ Are all the Deadwood subjects alive? “

“ Yes. We were given orders that none of the material was to be harmed any way. They are the Barons orders. “

“ Which Ville do you belong too? “ Craye demanded

“ CobaltVille. “ The man replied “ But there are Mags from eight out of the nine Baronies assigned to the Aurora. “

“ So this is not the doing of just one Baron? “

“ No. We have been told the survival of the Baronies depends on the Aurora and us. That’s all I know.“

“ That’s all I needed to know. “ Craye replied as the barrel of his Beretta came down across the man’s temple, laying him out cold on the damp earth. Stepping over the man’s still form Craye moved out on the street, a silver Beretta gripped in each hand, as he moved towards the two dozen Mags ringing the Aurora. He got with in a hundred yards of the strange ship before any of the Mags noticed. The moment Cray saw the man’s mouth form a warning scream he began firing. Starting with the man about to warn his comrades that they were about to have uninvited guests. The crack of the Beretta, as he fired a three round burst that slammed through the Mags armor and into his chest cavity, was deafening.

It was instant chaos as Tyler Craye began firing at anything in black that moved. He succeeded in killing a half dozen Mags before any of the surviving force returned fire. Sin Eaters leapt into waiting hands and instantly began spitting flame and death. Craye sprinted to the rusted out remains of a pre-dark pickup truck that had been stripped for its parts long ago. What remained offered adequate protection from the Mag Sin Eaters and Copperheads that were blazing away at his from all around the Aurora. 9mm bullets slammed into the rusted framework, shaking flakes of oxidized metal to the ground and revealing the shinny new metal beneath. Craye holstered his Berettas, and Un-slung his Winchester Repeater and dropped to the ground. He took careful aim for the tinted visors on the Mags helmets, knowing all to well that those visors amplified any available ambient light, to allow the wearer to see in a light green hue that cast away any and all shadows.

The Winchester bucked against his shoulder as the first of the riffles eight shots erupted from the riffle barrel. He snarled in savage satisfaction, as the head of the Mag he was aiming at disappeared in a spray of blood and bone. Craye was shifting his aim to his next target even before the corpse of his first target had time to hit the soft packed earth. He killed two more Mags before he was driven to ground as other Mags pin pointed his position and began concentrating there fire on that point. He rolled out from under the truck, coming up on one knew by the front bumper of the truck. He drilled two more Mags with 30/30 rounds through their visors before ducking back around the truck once more.

He quickly thumbed in five fresh rounds into the riffle, to replace the five he’d expended on the Mag force. He need a more defensible position he could hold or it was going to be only a matter of time before the Mags superior numbers over whelmed him and he was cut to ribbons by Sin Eater fire. With his back to the rusted out chaise of the truck Craye desperately scanned the surrounding building seeking away out of the area and finding none. With a curse he turned back toward the craft and the Mag force, just as they began a headlong rush towards his position. Without a clear destination, but knowing that it was hopeless to attempt to hold his position Tyler Craye sprinted back down the street he had used to approach the Mag force’s blind side.

Cutting around a sharp corner Craye found himself facing a large three story structure that had been an office building of some sort, but had since been converted to combination Saloon Hotel. As he sprinted down the street towards the structure he realized that the building hadn’t been occupied in sometime, as all the windows were gone, along with the front door. The brick steps that lead into the buildings lobby where cracked and crumbling, long since faded to a mold green. He vaulted through the remains of the front door his Berettas magically appearing in his hands. He could hear the pounding of Mag boots on the street outside, along with the slicing whisper of Mag Armor shifting with its owners movements as he hit the wide winding staircase to the floors above. He could feel the wood beneath his boots straining with his weight with each running step he took up the stairs. But the two-century old stairs held and he reached the second floor landing and sprinted off down a long corridor that ran from one end of the building to the other. He reached the end and cut around the corner out of sight, he stood peering out of a front window onto the street below and the dozen Mags that had rung the outside of the house. He could hear at least another half dozen or so Mags moving around on the first floor. He could feel time running out as he struggled to decide what he next move would be. If he took out the trio of Mags he could see covering the front of the house, he would alert those inside of his position. If he didn’t take the opportunity to decrease the number of Mags chasing him, it could prove to be a fatal mistake.

Knowing he couldn’t hide from the Mags in the Building for long, Craye holstered his hand Blasters and pulled the Winchester to his shoulder. Steadying the barrel on the windowsill he dropped the riffle sights on the nearest Mag to his position, and he stroked the trigger. Jacking a fresh round into the riffle chamber he shifted the sights to the next Mag along and fired a second round. He was jacking a third round into the chamber before the echoes of his first shot had died way. He took aim at the final Mag guarding the front of the building and fired, watching as the visor shattered in the splinter of a second before he was pitched onto his back with a bullet in his head.

Craye was up and moving even before the final corpse had hit the ground, thumbing three fresh cartridges into the breach of the riffle as he moved. He could hear someone shouting orders somewhere below him, as he moved towards the backside of the building. He could no longer see any of the Mags he knew where out there watching the building. After his little display out front he was not surprised. Mags may be the ones saddled with imposing Law and Order in the Outlands but none of them had any wish to die out in the field with the slagger scum they where saddled with controlling. As silence fell over the building, Craye moved through the shadows of the building like smoke through a keyhole. Knowing that a half dozen Mags were silently stocking him through the building made his uneasy.

He had just begun his circuit of the eastside of the building, when a lone Mag appeared at the end of the hall opposite his position. Acting on instinct Craye snapped up his Winchester and the riffle cracked once, spent brass falling to the floor, as the visor of the Mags helmet exploded. Then Craye was running forward, and vaulting the stiffening corpse as he slipped out of the corridor and onto the north side of the building. He found a stairway leading up to the third floor half way along that corridor. He bound up it feeling the staircase shutter under his weight as he moved as silently as he could. He stopped at the top of the stairs, and cautiously peered around the entranceway and right into the mirrored visor of an armored Mag. Before he could move the Mag snarled with rage and dropped the barrel of his sin eater across the back of Crayes head. Craye hit the floor with a grunt as darkness swept in to claim him.   

Craye slowly inched his eyes open, bright light stabbed at his retinas, causing him to snap them shut once more. The voice that spoke in his ear made him jump. “ Lay still Mr. Craye. You took a nasty beating at the hands of those bastard Mags. “ 

“ Where am I? “ he croaked out

“ You’re on the Aurora. “ The voice answered

“ Are we moving yet? “

“ No, Mr. Craye. You’ve only been out for a few hours. It seems we’re hold up here in Oak Glen Pass for the time being. At least until the sun goes down. The Barons don’t want word of the Aurora spreading, so these Mags are under orders not to fly unless its dark or the Cargo is in Danger. “

“ How do you know my name? ” he asked

“ I’m from Deadwood Kansas. You trade with my husband Kevin Shaw.”

That caused Tyler Craye to sit straight up, his eyes snapping open. “ Were are your son and daughter? “

“ They’re in another part of the ship with the rest of the children. I’m more frightened for them than for myself, because it seems as if the Barons have special plans for the children. Something far worse than what’s in store for all of us.“

“ I spoke with your husband back in Deadwood before I began chasing the Aurora. I told him I’d find you and do my best to get you back to him or die trying. “

“ It is a noble promise Mr. Craye. But one that I’m afraid you will not be able to fulfill. No one has ever escaped from Aurora. You are unarmed and there are Mags roaming all over this craft.”

“ I’ll find away. I always do and now will be no different. I have to because I gave your husband my word. Now help me up so I can take a look around this dump and figure out a way to spring us. “

With a reluctant sigh Mrs. Shaw helped Tyler Craye to his feet. He looked around the large rectangular shaped chamber that he had been taken to. All four walls, along with the ceiling and floor were composed of the same sooth black material as the outer hull of the craft. A single door made of composite that appeared to be booth durable and thick appeared to be the only way in or out of the ship. He and Mrs. Craye where sharing the large chamber roughly three hundred other people. All dressed in mismatched furs and handmade clothing, that were typical Outlander attire. He began moving around the outer edge of the chamber. Searching the walls, floor and ceiling for any other ways out. He knew a room of the size he was in needed some sort of venting system for air exchange and flow. But as he moved around the outside edge he could not find anything that resembled a vent. No matter where he looked all he could see was smooth black surface.

“Shit.“ He hissed through clenched teeth. “That door is the only way in or out of this place.”

“ I told you no one escapes from the Aurora once they’ve been lock away with in its bowels.”

“ I’m not giving up just yet. All of us out number the Mags about seven to one. If I can come up with a plan we should be able to overwhelm them and take control of the Aurora. We destroy it and its no longer a threat to us or anyone else.”

“From what I’ve seen so far, that’s easier said than done. Some of these people are from Idaho near Hells Canyon. They were the first ones to be taken. They’ve been prisoners more than two weeks. Time is a little distorted in here, but from what I can figure after talking to almost everyone in here, that’s about the right time frame.”

“Are you being fed?”

“Yes, twice a day. In the early morning and in the evening, that’s how we keep track of the passing of days.“

“What about bodily relief?“

“You mean where do we go the bathroom. They let us out in Pairs roughly an hour after each meal. Those are the only times were aloud to re-leave ourselves. When we’re allowed to go the Mag presence is heavy and they watch our every move.”

“That gives us a chance. A slim chance but a chance all the same.” Craye replied “ Do you know were exactly the children are being kept?“

“From what I over heard one of the Mags telling another, their being kept in a chamber directly below us.”

“Apparently they can be monitored more closely there. That was what made me fearful that they were being used for something special that will be worse to endure than the fate we have hanging over our heads.”

Craye nodded not knowing what to say that would reassure her that everything was going to be fine. It was going to take a miracle for them all to get out of the Aurora alive and in one peace. But he had promised Kevin Shaw that he would do all he could to return his family to him, and he had no intention of realigning on that promise. Kevin Shaw was not a hardened warrior like Craye, he was an Outlander but his life was a relatively safe, if not easy life to live. Deadwood was a culture that had men and women who were warriors who protected the town from everyday threats. Shaw was a farmer with hardly any combat experience despite having more hardware in his possession than most common Outlanders.

Craye knew in his heart that despite this simple fact if he had not come along, then Kevin Shaw would have pursued the Aurora himself and attempted to rescue his wife and children. His lack of combat experience would have doomed him to failure. Even now as Craye thought about all the firefights and pitched battles he’d taken part in over the years he wasn’t sure even he could rescue this woman and her children. The odds where as long as he had ever gone up against in his life, and he had serious doubts about his ability to make it out of the chamber much less out of the ship. If he had been alone, with only himself to worry about he would have back him self against the Mag forces. But with a woman and two children to safeguard out of the ship he was going to need every trick he’d ever learned living out in the Outlands if he was going to survive. Slowly he slid to floor next to Mrs. Craye, and leaned back against the wall to wait for their captures to appear once more.

The door to the chamber silently slid into a recess in the wall and a trio of fully armored Mags entered the chamber. They each held Copperheads at the ready, as they entered the fringe of the crowd. One by one each person in the group slowly got to their feet and moved towards the back wall of the chamber. Craye watched it all with practiced disinterest, as he took in every move up to and including the smallest most insignificant details.

After the Mags left Craye began formulating a plan to break free of the Aurora and the Barons hold. Over the next half an hour he quizzed Mrs. Shaw about the lay out of the ship. She was only able to outline a small area of the massive ship, as she had been unconscious when she was brought in, and since her capture she had only seen the hallways between the chamber and the makeshift restrooms. It was something at least at worst it was a place to start. She was unsure of the number of Mags assigned to the ship, and was unable to add anything more to what Craye had pried out of the young Mag back in Glen Wood Pass. He was going to have to wing it. He was good at making shit up as he went along, but as a young prostitute in Idaho had once told him it was only a matter of time before he fucked up and things turned fatal for him. His take on that subject was that everyone was born to die and all that mattered was surviving between birth and when the time to pass on came. He figured he would be like most Outlanders and buy the farm in some pitched gun battle somewhere. He’d be dumped in some mass grave if someone even took the time to bury him at all. The grave would be unmarked and as he had no family that he knew of and he would become just a forgotten face in one of a thousand violent clashes that took place in the Outlands everyday. He had learned to except it and he often urged others to do the same.

He was about to start questioning the other prisoners around him when the door at the far end of the chamber suddenly opened and a half dozen armored Mags marched in with drawn Sin Eaters. They looked around briefly, and then began marching towards the area where he was sitting. As it became apparent that they were there for him, he got to his feet in on single fluid motion, his body tensed for a confrontation. A confrontation that never came, because the lead Mag, a short compact man with broad shoulders stopped in front of him and said. “The Captain wishes a word with you.”

Craye nodded, as the Mag who had spoken motioned him to follow the other Mags out of the chamber while he brought up the rear. He was led down a long arrow straight corridor that rang with the echoes of there footsteps.  The seemed to be swallowed up by the endless blackness that seemed to be the living essence of the craft. At the end of the corridor they reached a single closed door, that held no label or indication of what was beyond its threshold. The Mag who had spoken to him in the chamber motioned for him to go through the door. He opened the door, as his escort turned and began the long arduous walk back to the chamber. Closing the door behind him he found himself in a small room, with the same black walls. Directly across from the door, was a single desk made out of the same deep black material as the rest of the ship. A single black chair sat vigil in front of that desk. Sitting behind the desk was aging man with salt and pepper hair, dressed in Ville issue clothing and a black Kevlar Mag issue duster. His ice blue eyes drilled into Craye. A gold nameplate that read Captain Salvo sat on the edge of the desk in front of the man.

“ I presume you are the outlander scum who killed several of my men a few hours ago.” Salvo began without preamble.

“ Maybe. “ Craye replied guardedly “ What if I am? “

“Then according to Baronial Law you should be executed for crimes against the Barons representatives. “

“Then chill me.” Craye spat.

“From what I saw out there today, you are a hardened warrior. I also believe that you are the same Outlander who attacked several of my men in Deadwood, You were believed dead. But here you are alive and kicking. Fresh from you’re latest blood bath.”

“What you’re doing for the Barons is wrong. “ Craye accused Salvo.

“ I am Ville born. Not to mention I took an oath to serve the Barons. “

“I shouldn’t expect anything more than blind loyalty from a Ville born peace of scum like you. You just follow the Barons because your Father and Grandfather did, simply following orders without question. Its all for unity right?”

“ What would an Outlander slagger like you know about unity and loyalty? You stumble through life just getting by, with no real purpose.“

“ But at least we haven’t forgotten where we came from. We’re free of the bonds of the Barons. Your Baron only notices the Outland masses when he needs something from us. The way I hear it he and his fellow Barons need us to survive. But I know you didn’t bring me here to discuss your Baron. “

“Correct. I brought you here because I was impressed by your abilities back in Deadwood and then again in Glenn Wood Pass. I’m prepared to offer you a deal.”

“ I’m listening. “

“ I’ve been saddled with collecting material for the Barons latest project as you know. But have also been tasked with finding several Outlaws from my home Cobaltville. You are a warrior, you roam the Outlands living off what you can trade, scavenge, or steal. I will return your weapons and allow you to go free, if you except my deal. “

“ I won’t agree to a deal I haven’t heard first. “

Salvo smiled. “ Good. I would have been surprised if you had agreed to my terms before I had laid them out on the table. I need a reliable source of information out in the Outlands were these Outlaws are hiding from Ville justice. I want you to help me find them. I will give you pictures and anything else you need. But if you except my offer do not think about double crossing me and running. I will find you, it may take time but I will find you. “

“ Understood. I wish to ask for something else beyond my own freedom before I agree to your terms. “

“ Now it is I who is listening. “

“ There is a woman and two children on this ship, they were taken from Deadwood. They are the reason I am here. I promised there family I would return there loved ones safely to them. I will help you find these Outlaws if you agree to free these three prisoners. I care not what happens to the rest of the prisoners. I have no stake in their ultimate fate. Do we have a deal Captain? “

Salvo was silent for a moment as he pondered the sudden change of events. He had expected the fur clad Outlander to cover his own ass by taking the deal and then cut and run. But instead he was asking for the release of three prisoners two off which were children. If the three prisoners had been adults then he would have instantly agreed, but the children were the most important part of the project. Baron Cobalt had told him of this fact right before he had departed for Snakefishville, to pick up Baron Snakefish’s compliment of Mags. He needed to find Kane and his companions otherwise the entire project was at risk, he made decision and spoke. “ Deal. But I ask only one thing in return, that you bring me four outlaws. Three committed crimes against the Barons, and the fourth murdered a pit boss and a Mag in the Cobaltville Tartarous pit. Do you agree to the deal I have placed out on the table.“

“ Agreed. “ Craye replied simply. “ You free me and the three prisons I requested in exchange for my help locating these four outlaws for you. Do I have it right?”

“Yes.” Salvo replied “This conversation never happened and this deal was never made. Understood?"

Deadwood Kansas: Three days later.

Tyler Craye stood on the bank of the Deadwood River watching the river wind away to the south, a hand rolled cigar clamped between his teeth.  Kevin Shaw stood next him, as the river rolled by at there feet.

“I owe you everything Tyler.“ he rasped “You gave me back the three things in this world that mean the most to me. I can never truly repay you.”

“No payment is necessary. I know what its like to loose family to the Barons. They’ve taken just about everything they can from me. That’s why I fight to stop their tyranny. Though I had to make a deal with them to get us all away from the Aurora and the Barons, alive.”

“Is there anything I can do help you complete your end of this deal you made?”

“ Take care of your family. I appreciate the offer, but I have to do this alone. I would not have sacrificed more than I could bear to. I would have found another way if the deal had been more than I was willing to lay on the line.”

“Thank you just the same.”

“Like I said take care of your family.” With that Craye heaved his rut sack and began walking south. He had a deal to fore fill. Kevin Shaw stood looking after Tyler Craye long after he had disappeared over a steep rise. Kevin Shaw silently thanked whatever spiritual force had sent Tyler Craye to him. He had his family back and a second chance at making a life for himself some where far from Deadwood. He intended to make the most of that chance. A smile pasted on his face, Kevin Shaw turned and headed back to his wife and children, and the bright future ahead of them.

The End

November 2000