By Chris Van Deelen


“So is it a deal then?”

            Maverick stood back and regarded the oil baron before him.  “Yeah, seems like a fair trade.  Six hundred gallons for six blasters and fifty rounds each.”

            The baron smiled, showing oddly perfect teeth.  “Excellent my friend. We will start transferring the fuel to your wags.”

            It had been just over a week since the companions had left the redoubt after the double disaster with the mat trans. Montague and Chance had argued that they should stay behind and get the gateway functioning again but the scarred warrior wouldn’t hear it.  There was no way that he was going to stay in that redoubt a single hour longer, let alone the several days of intense repair work that it would require to get the gateway locking comp functioning once again.  They had spent two hours shouting back and forth before Maverick finally slammed his hand down on the table and told them in no uncertain terms that they could either follow his command or stay the fuck behind.

            Maverick didn’t care for that one bit.  He wanted to work side by side with his companions and friends, not order them around.  But the two from the past needed to learn their place until they could survive on their own in the Deathlands.

            Reluctantly they agreed to his demands rather than face the possibility of being left behind to fend on their own. They quickly left the redoubt and began what was to be a very long journey across the hellish landscape that is the Deathlands.

            A week later they found themselves in the foothills of Montana, just a few hours away from the ranch that Maverick had grown up on. And to top it off they found themselves low on fuel. The high quality juice they had brought with them from the redoubt was almost gone. They had no choice but to make contact with the Oil barons that controlled a huge section of land covering almost all of the former province of Alberta, the southern half of Saskatchewan and part of northern British Columbia.

            During his travels with the Trader, they had dealt with the barons several times in the past.  The quality of the fuel wasn’t as good as it was before the Skydark but it was either trade with them and hope that they could reach the next redoubt listed on the data disk Maverick had been given.  There they would be able to fuel up once again.

            The baron turned and whistled sharply from between two of his fingers.  Several sec men jumped off the predark oil tanker and unhooked a long battered hose.  “Move your mutie behinds!”  He roared.  The baron was not really a baron, technically he was one of the true baron’s cronies.  But he fit the bill perfectly. A fat disgusting slob of a man dressed in a suit of dubious origin.

            The sec men raced with the hose over to the first of the two APC’s and hooked it up to the fuel intake.  Montague stood at the ready beside Feral at the first APC, while Chance and Gedoena waited by the other.  It took only a few minutes to top off the tanks of both APC’s.

            Maverick narrowed his eyes as the baron walked around the APC’s and ran his hands over the nearly perfect hulls. He could almost hear the other man’s mind clicking over trying to figure out a way to take the wags for himself.

            With a smile firmly planted on his face the baron turned around and raised his hand, and was about to speak.

            “Forget it.”  Maverick cut him off before the words left the baron’s mouth.

            “No?”  He raised his eyes in surprise. “But you haven’t even heard what I was going to ask you Maverick.”

            Maverick crossed his arms under his muscular chest and set his jaw. “Forget it. I am not going to tell you where we got the wags.”

            With a huff the baron strode up to the other man and put on his friendliest smile.  “But surely Maverick you could at least trade us for a arma wag or three. We are powerful and can give you pretty much anything you want.  In fact I’d be willing to trade you that tanker and the men and the full load of fuel for one right now.”

            With a firm shake of his head Maverick stated flatly. “No.  When I rode with the Trader it was the same thing. He never gave up the locations of where we got the goods or the wags and I ain’t gonna do it either.”

            But it was clear the baron was not going to be discouraged. “Name your price then Maverick. What do you want? Land? How about your own Barony?  Slaves or women?”

            At the word slaves both Gitana and Joe glanced sharply at the fat baron.  Maverick caught their eyes and shook his head almost imperceptibly. The baron was too wrapped up in his sales pitch to notice it.

            “We will give you what ever you want in exchange for the location of where you found these magnificent wags.”

            Quite deliberately Maverick turned his back on the fat baron wannabe and strode over to the fuel drums that the sec men were filling one at a time. “How’s the transfer coming?” He asked quickly.

            One of the men nodded to him and pointed at the nearly filled barrel. “Two more to go and that’s all of them.  Another three minutes at the outset.”

            Never one to give up, the baron marched over to the scarred warrior and clasped his shoulder.  “Come now Maverick, name your price.  You surely want something that we could provide.”

            Maverick looked down at the hand resting on his shoulder and at the baron.  The fat baron could clearly see that if he didn’t remove it and fast that he might end up pulling back a stump.  “I said no.  What part of no do you not understand trader?”  He carefully emphasized the word trader.

            Around the two groups the air suddenly turned tense.  Maverick had two fully armed and functional military APC’s while the Baron had a heavily armored fuel tanker as well as a dozen rebuilt cars and trucks that acted as escorts. The baron had almost thirty men and women with him, some were sec men, while others were techs.  If it came down to a fight, there is a good chance that the baron could kill several of Maverick’s crew, but not before Gitana and Joe destroyed the fuel truck. Both people were inside the turrets of the arma wags, their hands on the firing mechanisms, just waiting for the signal to fire.

            “Alright Maverick, no need to get your girdle in a bunch.”  The baron said amiably as he backed off.  He wore a friendly smile on his face but his eyes were clearly angered.  He wasn’t used to being treated like a common scavenger and didn’t like it in the slightest. “If you change your mind Maverick, just contact us on the same frequency.  And name your price.”

            The scarred warrior didn’t bother to reply as he opened the hatch on the nearest APC.  Inside he pulled out a box containing six assault rifles and passed it to the nearest sec man, then he removed another box, this one still stamped with ‘Property of US army’ on the outside.  A second sec man took the other box and walked over to the baron and held it out for his inspection.

            Using a gold encrusted chubby hand the baron carefully opened the box and removed several bullets at random.  The first sec man who Maverick had handed the weapons to removed two of the M-16A2 blasters and brought them over to the baron.

            Despite his appearance the Baron was clearly familiar with weapons and knew how to use them. He removed the magazine from both and loaded the rounds into each.  The fat man barked an order to another one of the sec men who ran back to one of the pickups and brought over a mock up of a man made out of plywood.  He carried the standup figure fifty yards away from the two groups and set it up.

            The baron took careful aim with the first blaster and fired.  The Standup was neatly blown over by the shot. The sec man quickly set it up again and the baron fired a burst from the rifle.  The head of the mock up shattered in a shower of wooden splinters.

            “Satisfied?” Maverick asked.

            With a nod the baron handed the smoking weapon to one of his cronies. “Excellent weapons.  No sign of having been fried.  I could still smell the cosmolime they were packed in.”

            “Good. Trades done, that’s that.”

            “Would you and your crew care to come back to the ville with us? It’s only a three-hour drive from here.  We will treat you to the best meal you could imagine and a nice soft bed for a few days if you want.  Your people are looking triple tired.”

            “No thanks.” Maverick shook his head.  “Much obliged at the offer of hospitality but we have to decline. I have a lot of miles to put between us over the next few days and don’t want to waste any time.”

            “Alright Brett, but you have our frequency if you need anything at all.”

            The scarred warrior just nodded and walked away.


*           *            *


            Gitana was busy checking the ammo stores when she felt a presence behind her.  Normally she would have shot first and asked questions later but she was quite familiar with the presence.  “Chica, what do you want?”

            The mutant girl placed her taloned hand on the other woman’s shoulder.  “Gitana, I am worried about Daddy Brett.”

            “I know you are Chica. I’ve noticed it as well.”  The Spanish woman patted the talon on her shoulder.  “Come, sit and lets talk.”

            Carefully the mutant girl slid into the co pilots seat, taking care not to catch her prehensile tail on anything sharp. “Daddy seems to be really tired lately.  Ever since we made that jump back from newyork. And since you sleep with him all the time maybe you know what is wrong.  He just looks worse and worse every day. And I thought his temper was bad but it’s getting really bad now.”

            “Something happened to him when we jumped back from the past. He wouldn’t tell the others, or you totally what it was but…”  The older woman said quietly, closing her eyes and leaning back against the hull of the APC.

            Gedoena prodded gently. “But what Gitana?”

            The older woman opened her eyes and stared at the mutant girl who is rapidly becoming a daughter to her as she had to Maverick. “Promise me that you will never, ever breath a word to anyone, including Brett. I am breaking his trust by telling you.”

            “Alright” Gedoena nodded.  “I promise I won’t tell him. Is it serious?”

            “Chica, when we jumped from the past, he was pulled into the future.  He told me about it.  The story was totally unbelievable, would have been if we hadn’t been in the past ourselves.”  She quickly related his brief visit to the future, the possible future of the Deathlands, relating what he had seen and encountered.

            “Wow.” Was all the girl could say when Gitana finished the story. “But a simple jump like that shouldn’t cause him to lose sleep.”

            “He wakes up every night.  Sometimes I wake up before he does.  His body is always covered in sweat and I can almost smell his fear.”

            Gedoena shivered despite the warmth of the interior of the arma wag.  “He was afraid? What could cause him to be afraid?”

            Gitana smiled at the girl. “Chica, Brett is only human. He has his weakness and fears, just like the rest of us.”

            The young woman clearly wanted to argue with Gitana, but she held her thoughts in check. “Do you know what it was?”

            “No. He refuses to talk about it. Just gets up and gets a drink or relives himself them comes back to bed.”

            “I want to talk to him about this Gitana.”

            “No. You won’t. He is going to tell me eventually.  She snapped more harshly than she had intended to. “I’m sorry Chica,” She said calmly.  “You are worried about him as am I.”

            Gedoena nodded and stroked her tail, a clear sign she was agitated. “Is he going to die?”

            The absurdity of her question caught Gitana totally off guard. The small Spanish woman couldn’t help but burst out laughing.  She quickly regained control of herself. “What sort of triple stupe question is that Chica? Of course he isn’t going to die. He just needs to get his rest.”

            “Then lets stop and get the rest he needs.”  She wasn’t angry at the laughter, and her young but brilliant mind went for the most logical solution she could think of.

            “I believe he has already decided on that course of action Chica.”

            Just then the scarred survivalist stuck his head in the APC and glanced at the two women. “Gitana, Geddy, what are you two up ta?”

            “Just talking Amante.  Nothing more.”

            He chuckled. “Get two women together and the plotting starts.”

            Gitana placed her hand on the girl’s knee and squeezed it gently, silently telling her to keep her thoughts to herself. “Of course not Amante, it wouldn’t interest you anyhow.”

            Maverick leaned against the door and crossed his arms.  “Try me.”

            “If you insist Brett.”  Gitana chuckled and winked. “It’s that time of the month for her.”

            The scarred warrior took one look at the two women and did a fast about face and closed the door.  Neither woman could hold back the laughter at the look on his face.

            “I will talk to him chica.  He listens to me after all.” Gitana reassured the young mutant.

            Gedoena hugged her tightly and kissed her cheek. “Thank you Gitana.”

            “No need to thank me. He’s important to me as well. After all, he is going to be the father of my baby.”  She stood up in the cramped confines of the APC as she spoke and opened the door.

            Outside she spotted her lover helping Joe, Mitch and Chance secure the fuel drums to the back of the APC.  The small convoy was already quickly disappearing in the late afternoon sun, heading north back to their port of call. Both Joe and Maverick worked without words, knowing what the other needed, like a well-oiled machine. The only time they spoke was to let the other two members of his band know what needed to be done.  It took only a handful of minutes before the barrels were secured. Chance noticed her watching and waved in a friendly manner.

            Waving back, she walked up to the four men. “That was fast.” She said cheerfully.

            Joe smiled in his usual manner. “We don’t screw around. Job needs doing gets done.”

            She smiled at him and wrapped her arm around her lover’s waist. “I know that Joe.” She reached up and kissed Maverick’s stubbled chin. “Are we going to make camp here tonight?”

            “No, I want to put as much distance as I can between us and the gas baron.”  He answered her as he wiped his brow free of sweat.

            “Amante, I am tired. Let’s just stay here.” 

            Mitch looked at chance and motioned with his head to the APC, Joe joined them.

            Maverick sighed and threw his hands up. “Listen Gitana, you don’t know those oil barons. They have a huge barony, hundreds of sec men and dozens of wags.  They get what they want, and the only way to deal with them is to show force or to beat a hasty retreat.”

            “Then how did the Trader handle them?”  She pressed.

            “Trader was the baddest dog on the block. The baron knew that if he tried anything, trader would wipe his little convoy out.  We’ve got the wags, but I am triple worried that the stupe’s are carrying wag chillers.”

            She nodded, knowing that he was right.  He was the warrior.  “How far are we going to go?”

            He pointed towards the rolling hills in the distance. Just past could be seen the white-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains. “We’ll head there.  I used to live around here so I know the land pretty good. We can find a place to make camp in about an hour or so.”

            “Alright Brett.”


*           *            *


            The roads in this part of the country were in particularly bad condition. Almost one hundred years of brutal winters, combined with the earth-shaker bombs used by the soviets during the holocaust had taken their toll on the roads.  Some were perfectly clear and passable while others were so badly damaged that it was easier to travel in the ditches alongside the predark continental lifelines.

            Just as the sun was starting to set they found themselves in the foothills of the Darks, several hundred miles away from where they had left Ryan and the others.  Maverick was piloting the first APC and they pulled off the road into a large clearing near a mountain stream.  He parked it next to the stream and killed the engine.

“We’ll make camp here.”  He told Gitana, Feral and Gedoena as he unbuckled the seatbelt and climbed out of the drivers seat.  Already the three female members of the band were doing the same.

            “I’ll get a fire started Daddy.”  Gedoena told him.

            He nodded and opened the hatch in the turret, letting the cool evening air wash over him. As soon as the door was opened, Feral’s life long companion, the mutant cougar slipped out and ran straight for the trees that surrounded them.  He figured the cougar was going hunting.  The other APC pulled up a dozen yards to the right and parked.  Joe was the first one out, followed my Mitch and Matt.

            “What’s the plan Brett? “  Montague asked, stretching the travel kinks out of his back as he walked over to the APC.

            “You and Chance, head with Joe and get some firewood.  Watch out for Scream-wings and keep your blasters ready. Stay on orange.”

            Mitch raised his eyebrow. “Scream-wings?”

            “Yup, triple nasty little mutie fuckers.  Ask Joe about them. He’ll fill ya in on the details. They’re quite common up in these parts.”

            “Eyah.  Will do Brett.”  He threw the other man one last look before he caught up with the other two men.

            Working quickly Brett pulled out enough self-heats for the group.  Over the past few days he quickly caught on to what the others ate and how much.  Personally he loved the predark packaged food even if the others didn’t.  But he knew that they would soon grow tired of the same food day in and day out and would want a change.

            A sudden shriek caused him to drop the packages and the Desert Eagle was in his hand and aimed in the direction of the sound before the last of the self-heats hit the ground.  His eyes caught the sight of Feral leaping in the river; naked as the day she was born.  With a growl he holstered the weapon and gathered up the packages.  The scream she made was not unlike that of the Scream wings he warned Montague about.

            Gedoena had a fire already going and he handed his adopted daughter one of the self-heats. She had grown quite partial to the chicken ala king self-heats and he made sure that they stocked quite a few of them.  With a smile she took the meal and opened it, triggering the chemical reaction that heated the meal up almost instantly.

            As his lover joined him he handed the other meals to her and went back to the APC.  He quickly checked the fuel and oil levels to make sure that there were no problems.  They had burned more fuel that he had expected but that was due to the poor quality of the crude the barons produced.  Once they reached the next redoubt he would have to take the time to change the filters and give the wags an overhaul.

            Before he knew it Gitana was knocking lightly on the metallic skin of the APC.  “Amante, your supper is getting cold.”

            “What?” He had lost total track of time. “Oh, shit. Sorry babe.”

            She entered the APC and closed the door behind her.  “Brett, we have to talk.”

            “Sure.” He answered her as he wiped his hands on the thighs of his pants.  He knew that what ever she had to say it was going to be serious as she rarely ever used his first name.

            “Amante, we’re all worried about you.”  She placed her warm hand on his arm and squeezed the muscle gently.  “You have been losing too much sleep and you need your rest.”

            He waved her concern off. “Been worse babe.  Went days without sleep at times while riding with Trader.”

            “I know that Amante, but I want you to spend a little time resting up here for a couple of days. We have plenty of food, there is fresh water and we’re about one hundred miles from the nearest settlement.”  She stood behind him and placed her hands on his shoulders. The muscles there were usually hard, but they felt like they had been carved out of granite. She began to dig in with her fingers, trying to relax them.

            Sighing with relief, the man slumped his shoulders and let his arms go loose.  “I want us to reach that redoubt in the next 3 days. We can stock up on fuel and I can run maintenance on the wags.”

            Her fingers continued to work the hard muscle as she spoke. “Brett, the redoubt has been their since before the Skydark. It will be there for years to come.  The trip can wait.”

            “Fireblast Gitana, why the hell is this so fucking important to you? I’m fine.”  He snapped harshly, wrenching his shoulders out of the woman’s hands.

            “See Amante, that is exactly why I am concerned about you.”  The outburst didn’t upset her in the slightest and she took his shoulders in her hands once again.  “You are suffering from the lack of rest, and your mood swings have been getting worse and worse.  And do you know what the worst thing is?”

            “Do I want to know?”  He asked as he forced his unreasoning anger down.

            “Amante, you haven’t even tried to make love to me since we left the redoubt.”

            “No,” He said as he rubbed his temples with the tips of his fingers, closing his eyes as the stress seemed to intensify. “No, I haven’t. And I’m sorry.”

            “I want to know your dreams.  Something is preventing you from getting the sleep you need and if you talk about it, that might help.”


            “Brett, tell me and I am not going to let up until you do. If you don’t I will get the others to help me tie you up and we’ll stay here until you get the rest you need.”

            Resigned to his fate, Maverick told her about meeting the Archon when he had been pulled into the future. He told her about the gut wrenching horror that overwhelmed him as the creature reached out and caressed his mind with the inhuman thoughts.

            “The worst thing was his eyes. Those huge, inhuman orbs. When he stared at me it was like he was staring right into my soul.”  Just telling the woman seemed to lift a great weight off his heart.

            She shivered despite the warm temperatures inside the APC.  “That gave me the horrors Amante. From the way you described it, I’ve never seen a mutie like that, hell, never heard of a mutie like that before.”

            “Believe me babe, if you would have seen it, you’d be losing sleep as well.”

            Gitana smiled down at her lover as she continued to massage his neck and shoulders. “Brett, we are going to stay here for a few days and rest up.”  She said, not asked.  The tone of her voice hinted that there was no room for arguing.

            He opened his mouth to protest but she interrupted him.

            “And tonight, you’re going to fuck me till you can’t get it up anymore. Is that understood Maverick?”

            “Sure Gitana.  I got it.”

            “That’s my Amante.”  She laughed as she kissed him the stubbled cheek. “I want you to shave tonight before we go to bed ok?”

            “You got it.”

            “C’mon Amante, your food is probably as cold as the grave now.”  She grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet. Together they walked out and joined the others at the fire.

            The other five members of the small group were already seated on logs that Chance and Montague had dragged in from the surrounding forest.  Feral was once again fully dressed and was seated only a few feet away from Joe, watching him as he ate.  Gedoena was with her carefully helping the wild woman comb the tangles out of her unruly mop of hair. The huge mutant cougar had her head on her paws and opened one eye ever so slightly as they approached the group.

            He sat down on the dirt before the fire and grabbed a self-heat that Gitana had already opened for him. Without fanfare he dug into the meal.  “Good work Mitch, Matt.” He said between mouthfuls.

            Montague merely nodded and silently worked on his meal. Mitch grinned. “Thanks Maverick. But wasn’t anything. Plenty of dead wood lying about.  Doubt anyone has used this spot in years.

            Joe glanced over at Feral as Gedoena continued to work on her hair.  In some ways he found her near constant staring at him enduring as well as infuriating.  “What?”  He asked.

            “You eat like wood pig.”  She answered him.

            Joe put his now finished meal down on the ground and wiped his mouth clean, grinning from ear to ear. “Your point?”

            “You pig. That point.”

            Maverick started to chuckle quietly under his breath, earning an evil eyed glare from the woman.

            “Daddy Brett?”  The young mutant interjected before a shouting match started between her adopted father and her friend.

            “Yeah Ged. What’s on your mind?”

            She bit her lip, afraid that she might give away something that she shouldn’t. The young woman put the comb down and flicked her long tail from side to side. “When are we going to leave? First thing tomorrow?”

            He took another bite of the self-heat and shook his head. “Nah, figure we’d stay here for a few days.  Seems like a nice and quiet place, pretty peaceful. Considering the shit we’ve been through over the past few weeks, we need a good long vacation.”

            The girl didn’t hide her surprise very well it was clear that the news was exactly what she wanted to hear. “Oh, that’s good.”

            “Usual watches Maverick?” Montague queried and stood up, picking up his rifle.  They had been together for quite some time and he still was quite distant.

            “The usual, unless you want to switch off with someone.”

            With a shake of his head the soldier from the predark days slung the rifle over his shoulder. “No, that’s good for me.”  He turned.

            “Watch your six Mitch, stay on orange.”

            “Roger that.”  He tossed over his shoulder as he walked out of the circle of light and headed into the woods near the stream.

            Maverick clapped his thighs. “So, who’s up for some hooch?”

            Joe’s head shot up and he laughed. “I hear that. Fuckin A!”

            “Count me in Brett.”  Matt replied as well.

            With a grin the scarred survivalist stood and went to the APC.  A moment later he returned with several bottles of predark beer and a bottle of Jack Daniels. After passing the beer around and putting one aside for Mitch when he returned Brett sat down and relaxed slightly.

            “Wish we had some Canadian beer.”  Matt commented as he opened his bottle and took a swig.

            Gitana slid down behind Maverick and wrapped her hands around his waist, holding her beer in her right hand and she twined her fingers in his left hand. “Why’s that Matt?  I’ve drank better but this predark stuff ain’t bad.”

            “American beer just doesn’t have the kick that the Canadian stuff does.”  He answered her.

            Joe had just finished draining half the bottle when he looked at his new companion and chuckled. “Not enough kick?  Shit man, you want kick should give you some joltski or mebbe when we hit the next ville, get you some of the local gut rot.”

            “I’ll take you up on that offer Joe.”  Said Matt as he held his beer up in a mock salute.  “Christ this beer is like making love in a Canoe.”

            Her tail swished somewhat as Gedoena spoke to Matt. “How’s that?”

            Joe was already chuckling, knowing exactly what the predark med tech was going to say.

            “American beer is like making love in a canoe.  They’re both fucking close to water.”

            Gitana and Brett both groaned at the punch line, Gedoena giggled and Feral just stared at the man, uncomprehending the meaning of the joke.   Matt didn’t bother to explain it to the woman, as the blood between them was still bad.

            Despite himself Matt grinned. “Brett, tell us a few stories about what it was like when you grew up.”

            Gitana tensed up, ready to calm her lover down. She knew that he didn’t like to talk about his past and got very angry when someone asked.  To her surprise, he did tense but relaxed almost instantly.

            “Sure Matt. What ya wanna know?”  His voice was steady and calm, no hint of the usual anger that accompanied the question.

            Matt shrugged and rubbed his eyes. “Where did you grow up?”

            “As I said earlier today, I actually grew up in these parts. My family, we were part of a large ranch, more like a fortress.  There were nine families in total, almost eighty people.”

            Everyone relaxed and listened to Brett’s narration, even Feral.  She lay down on her stomach and curled into her cougar companion.

            The scarred survivalist continued with his story. “We raised cattle and did a little farming and hunting. Traded a lot of the cattle to some of the local Amarinds and even some of the Oil Barons like the ones we made the deal with. Never had too much trouble with muties, except the triple deadly scream wings. Seemed to concentrate in this area somehow. Never did understand that.”

            “So what did you do then daddy Brett?”  Gedoena asked him as she sidled a little closer to Matt. The predark whitecoat was so intent on his beer and the survivalist’s narration that he didn’t notice it.

            “I was mainly a wrangler. I spent most of my time alone or with a couple of my friends.  I was away from the ranch most of the time, tending the herds, making sure we didn’t lose too many to the muties and ghouls.”

             Feral’s eyes opened a little.  “Ghouls?  Cannie muties?”

            He nodded. “Yeah, the same.”

            Gitana hugged him tightly. “Go on Amante.”

            “We used to have a problem with some of the natives going after our cattle. Got into some triple chilling fights with them. But a few years back, before I joined Trader, the heads of my home, including my dad, and the tribal elders finally met and put an end to the hostilities. Did some trading and we’ve been uneasy allies since.”

            Joe drained his beer and stood up. ”Sounds reasonable. The Amarinds are triple good folks once you get on their good side.  But they’ve never been too trusting of Outlanders so getting on their good side is damn near impossible at times.  Black Dust, they think that the holocaust was a good thing.”

            With a nod the survivalist agreed. “Yeah, that they are. Lost my cherry to one of the Amerind girls.”  He chuckled slightly as he felt Gitana’s arms tighten around him ever so slightly.

            “What was her name?”  Asked the small Spanish woman.

            “Prairie Fire.  Trust me, that name fit the girl.”

            “What was your native name Bro?”  Joe asked as he returned with several more bottles of the predark beer.

            “Never got one.”

            “Bullshit!”  Joe laughed and sat down.  “You spend enough time with the Amerinds and earn their respect, they’ll stick you with one.”

            “I never got one.”  Maverick Insisted.

            The large barrel chested man refused to give up. “Wrong Brett. You shagged a native girl.  At the very least if she’s gonna let you in her doe skin skirt you must have meant something to her.  And there is no way she would have let you have your way if she didn’t like you.

            “Fireblast Joe, how the fuck do you know?”

            Joe lifted the small leather bag that was constantly hung around his neck. “Because I spent time with the Amerinds as well.”

            “I’ll tell you mine IF you tell me yours then.”  Maverick made that perfectly clear.

            “Sure. They called me Spirit of the bear in white man’s body.”

            Maverick chuckled slightly. “Ya know, that suits you.  Ace on the line, that suits ya perfect!”

            “Spirit of the bear in white man’s body.”  Feral repeated, almost as if she was testing or t tasting the name. “I like. Better than Joe.”

            “It’s a pretty long name though.”  Gedoena commented, now sitting hip to hip with Matt Chance.

            Matt noticed it but didn’t try to pull away. “Your turn Brett.”

            Brett mumbled quietly under his breath.

            “What was that Amante?” His lover asked him as she leaned in close. “Didn’t quite make that out.”

            The survivalist sighed. “I said, they called me Heart of Stone, Head of Air.”

            The only sound to reach the companions was the steady crackle and pop from the fire.  Then Feral started to giggle.  Like a wild fire the laughter quickly infected the other members of the group, even Maverick.

            The mutant girl wiped tears of laughter out of her eyes and fought to regain composure. “I’m sorry Daddy Brett, but that is so funny!”

            Despite himself, he was chuckling along as well. “Don’t get yer panties in a bunch over it Gedoena.  It’s ok.  It really did fit me.”

            Gitana tipped the bottle of Jack Daniels and poured a little into her now empty beer bottle and drained it.  “Why did you deserve it Amante?”

            “Yeah, why Amante?”  Feral Echoed.

            “You all know me. I’m a fighter. Nothin scares me.  Heart of Stone, make sense?”

            No one made any motion to argue with the man. Not even the wild mutant.

            “And you also know that I tend to do a lot of things without thinking them out. Well used to anyway.  So, that’s how I got head of air.”

            They shared another quiet round of laughter.  It was true, the huge survivalist did have a bad habit of not thinking before he acted. But as the time passed that habit was slowly disappearing.

            The small group of companions spent several hours talking and reminiscing about their travels and encounters.  It took a while for Matt to warm up to them but once he had he was a fountain of predark information and quite amiable.  Much to his surprise, Gedoena curled her arm around his and leaned into him, listening.  Within a few minutes the strange mutated girl was sound asleep.

            After that, the level of noise dropped considerably, even though the level of alcohol consumed went up.

            “I’m gonna take my watch now.”  Joe announced out of the blue as he stood up and picked up his shotgun.  Even though he consumed almost twice the amount of predark beer that Maverick had, the man was as steady as an oak tree.

            Maverick nodded.  “Sure thing bro. Wake me in two and I’ll take over ok?”  With a yawn he stretched, suddenly feeling more tired than he had been all week.  “Fireblast, I think I’m gonna go let the sandman beat me to death.”

            “You wish Amante.”  The small Spanish woman whispered in his ear, letting her tongue slide along the flesh of his lobe.

            He chuckled despite the exhaustion that he felt consuming him. “A promise is a promise Git.”

            “Ooo! Amante and Gitana gonna mate like wild animals.”  Feral chortled as she stroked the fur of her cougar companion.

            The lovers stood together. Gitana opened the APC and grabbed the bedroll and sleeping bags out and laid them near the fire.  Maverick helped her as she worked.  The equipment was in pristine condition and very comfortable. They could sleep in the dead of winter in the bedrolls and bags without fear of hypothermia.

            They watched as Joe walked away from the group, humming a tune to himself and carrying his shotgun at the ready but loosely in his hand.  Only a few minutes after he left Feral quietly stood up and slinked her way out of the camp. Her cougar looked up once and actually shook her head before climbing under the APC near the engine cowling to soak up the radiating heat that was still present.

            Matt gently shook the mutant girl awake. She rubbed her eyes sleepily and stood up.  “Goodnight Daddy Brett.”  Gedoena said as she kissed her guardian on the cheek and hugged him tightly.  “I hope you sleep good.  You need it.”

            “Thanks Geddy. I want you to get your rest as well.”  She smiled and with a flick of her tail disappeared into the APC that Matt had only moments before entered.

            Gitana smiled and took her lovers hand.  “Seems your little girl is growing up triple fast Brett.”

            The scarred survivalist nodded and squeezed her hand in return, running his free hand through her silky tresses. “Yeah, that she is.  I have a feeling that we’re not the only ones who’re gonna be doing anything but sleeping.”

            “How does that make you feel Amante?  I’ve seen the look you’ve given Chance a few times when Gedoena was getting a little too close for your liking.”

            “Makes me feel triple old.”  He shrugged and cracked his knuckles then started to unlace his combat boots.

            Gitana laughed as she pulled off her jacket and top, the nipples on her small breasts becoming erect almost instantly as the cold night air caresses her tanned flesh.  “I meant how does that make you feel knowing that Gedoena is getting intimate with Matt.”

            “I don’t like it at all to be triple straight.”  He answered as he sat down and pulled off his shirt, opening up the bedrolls. “But…” He paused and looked up at his lover. “She’s got an adults body and it is so clear that she is in love with him. Even if he has been blind to see it.  So if she’s happy I will just have to accept it.”

            She wrapped her arms around his chest and pressed her breasts into his back, gently caressing his stomach. “You’ve changed so much Brett. I am proud of you.”  She whispered as she gently kissed his neck.

            Maverick pulled off his fatigues and laid down, pulling her onto his chest.  “Thanks Gitana. I’ve had good reasons to do so.”  He glanced at his watch.  “Fireblast, two hours till I relieve Joe.”

            “That’s plenty of time.”  She purred and spread her legs as she slid down his body.  “Plenty of time.”

            And they made good use of it.


*           *            *


            Maverick shot up from his bedroll, clutching his head.  The echoes of the familiar dream still ghosted through his mind, but they seemed to have lessened slightly. The cold night air washed over his sweat soaked torso and he shivered, reaching for his jacket.  He was surprised to see his Desert Eagle in the hand he was using to grab his clothing.

            A soft warm hand touched his back. “You had the dream again didn’t you Amante?”

            He nodded and slipped his jacket on. “Yeah, but fireblast, if talking about it to you didn’t help me.  Seemed somehow, well less frightening.”

            “Don’t bottle things in.”  She said as she sat up, letting the blankets and sleeping bag fall down around her waist.  Her dark flesh positively glowed in the dying firelight.  “See, when you told me about what was happening, you opened up the floodgates and the pressure that was building up had a chance to escape.”

            “Yeah, triple ace on the line Gitana. You’re right.”  He kissed her as he reached into the sleeping bag and pulled out his pants and slipped them on.

            She stared him in the eye and stroked his inner thigh as he slid his pants on. “Where do you think you’re going Amante.”

            “Rad blasted hell Gitana, don’t you get enough?”  He chuckled and stood up doing up his pants.

            “From you?” She said huskily, cupping her firm breasts for him.  “Never Amante, ever.”

            It took a moment for him to get his boots laced up and he holstered his handgun.  “I won’t be long Git. I just gotta go water the plants.”  He made his way out of the firelight and stood behind the APC and let nature run it’s course.

            As he was apt to do, the survivalist let his eyes wander around the edge of the camp.  He scanned the tree line, taking in whatever the dying firelight revealed.  The soft steady sound of someone walking reached him.

            “Hey Brett, you’re not due to relieve me for another hour.”  Joe’s quiet voice reached him.  The survivalist looked down at his watch.  He was supposed to have relieved the other man almost two hours ago.

            “Shit, I should have relieved you a couple hours back bro.  Triple sorry about that.”  Maverick apologized.

            Joe waved it off with a friendly grin and a shrug.  “Brett, you go spend time with Gitana.  You both need it.  I’ll just sleep in tomorrow.  ‘Sides, you said we’re staying a few days so I can get all the rest I want to then.”

            Maverick nodded and continued to scan the trees as he did up his pants. He reached for his pistol and drew it in a flash.

            Seeing his friend’s reaction, Joe brought the shotgun up and panned it around, facing the trees that Maverick was currently staring at. “Where?”

The survivalist stabbed the barrel of the pistol to a small gap in the trees. “There, say something, two eyes shining in the light. We’re being watched.”

            Gitana joined them. She was wearing his shirt and had the CAR 15 carbine in one hand, a burning chunk of wood from the fire in the other. She handed the torch to her lover and he took the point.  She stayed a little to his left and a few yards behind and Joe went to the right.

            Using the barrel of his handgun Maverick pushed aside the leaves where he had seen the flash of reflected firelight.  There was nothing there but he could see clearly that there had indeed been someone watching them.  A small footprint, exactly the same size and shape of Gitana’s was clearly visible in the soft earth.

            “Joe, wake up Mitch and Matt. Grab a couple of the claymores and set them around the perimeter of the camp. We’ve got visitors.”  He pulled back from the spot and strode purposely into the camp. The barrel chested man did as he was asked, knocking lightly on the door to each APC and spoke quietly to both me.

            Maverick spent little time getting his clothing back and he slipped his ever present body armor on under his jacket.  By the time he was fully dressed Matt, Mitch, Gedoena, and Feral joined them.  Joe took Mitch and they set up a pair of claymore anti personnel mines on the east and north side of the small Camp. Maverick took Chance with him and showed him were to set up his mine.  They covered the south and east part of the camp while Gedoena, Feral and Gitana stood guard.

            The fact that the visitors didn’t attack was not necessarily a good sign. Typically if it were a lone mutie or a small number of muties they would attack without hesitation. Radiation not only twisted the bodies but the minds as well.  The fact that they were not attacked, only watched meant that the visitor had the ability to reason. It might have been a lone scout for one of the native tribes that made this part of the state their home. It could have been a loner, someone who traveled exclusively at night checking out the neighbors. Or it could have been an advance scout doing a recce before the initial attack.

            One of the most common times for an attack to take place was just before Dawn. It was already four thirty in the morning and the sun would be coming up soon.

            After having placed the anti personnel mines the four men slipped back to the APC’s.  Maverick ordered Gitana and Gedoena into the vehicles to man the 20 mm auto cannons.  Feral and her cougar companion disappeared into the forest.  None of the companions could move as quickly or as silently as they were able to.  And the telepathic link that the mutant shared with her cougar proved to be invaluable when it came to a recce.  Maverick grabbed his MP 5 and walked over to the river and carefully scanned the surface of the water as he walked a quick patrol.

            The dawn broke brilliantly over the horizon.  The purple and orange chem. clouds seemed to burst into a firestorm of light and brilliant colors. Despite the numerous sunrises he had witnessed over the years, the breathtaking sight caused him to pause for a moment.

            Fortunately, the expected attack never came.

            Maverick spotted Feral and crossed over to her and slung his submachine gun. “Anything?”  He asked.

            “Smell. Friend pick up.”  She threw her thumb in the direction of the still unseen cougar.

            “Mutie?”  He pressed.

            Feral nodded. “Mutie. Mebbe ghoul.  Not sure. Not smell bad like Ghoul.  But smell like Ghoul.”

            The survivalist cupped his chin and took in the information. He looked over at his companions. “We’re being watched by Ghouls according to Feral.”

            Gedoena rolled her eyes.  “Those creatures are horribly disgusting. They eat the flesh of the dead, no matter what it is.  Human, mutie or animal. The longer its been dead the better they like it.

            Every one of the companions with the exception of Matt and Mitch had encountered the mutants known as ghouls at least once in their journeys. Like several of the other mutant races that roamed the Deathlands, there were variations in that particular genotype. Some were filthy beasts, nothing more than human shaped animals that lived around the rad blasted cesspools near some of the larger villes.  Many made the nuked metropolises their homes as well. Some were intelligent and stayed away from people; some were hunted down and destroyed due to the threat they posed.

            Maverick himself had seen Ghouls several times over the years while he was wrangling. Most of the time the creatures stayed well away from the cattle, usually content to live off the few that died or were killed. He’d only caught the occasional glimpse of the mutants that made Montana their home.

            “Actually, I believe we don’t have to worry about the ghouls here.”

            As one, his companions turned and stared at him. “What the nuking hell you talking about Maverick?” Spat Gitana, not believing what she just heard.

            “Am I not speaking English here?”  He barked back, throwing his hands up in disgust. “I said, we don’t have to worry bout them. The Ghouls here are timid, and they stay away from people. Occasionally we’d trade in secret with them, they would leave some pre nuke goods for us and we’d leave them rotted food, clothing and stuff that they found useful.”

            Hefting his assault rifle, Mitch chambered a round and sighted in a tree near by. “How do ya know that our visitor was one of these friendlies then?”

            “I just do Mitch.  Trust me on this.”  And deep down inside the scarred warrior did indeed know.  Instinctively he realized that the watcher never meant the group any harm.  How he knew this he wasn’t sure. But he was always the type to follow his gut instinct.

            “The big question is this then.”  Joe murmured as he leaned against the hull of the APC. “Are we gonna stay here or are we gonna put a few more miles between us and the oil barons?”

            After the near disaster with the last jump that brought the companions into the bowels of Newyork city, Maverick swore that he would change his way of leading the group. It was now time for him to put his promise to the test.  “I say we stay put. Lets rest up. We could all use it.”

            “You telling or asking us Brett?”  Asked Matt who was crouched, and was playing with a few blades of grass between his fingers.”

            “I’m askin.  Simple as that. I’m askin you to trust me on this. The Ghouls, these muties, they won’t cause us any problems.”  He crossed his muscular arms and waited for the others to sound off.  “What’s your thoughts?”

            “I say we go.” Answered Matt. “After the fucks we encountered back in New York, I don’t want to meet these Ghouls that you mentioned.”

            The survivalist nodded.

            Gedoena looked torn between her adopted father and the predark scientist. She bit her lip, the sharp canines showing clearly as she thought. “I say we stay.  I trust you daddy Brett.”

            Two for, one against Maverick mentally tallied. “Mitch?”

            “Lets go.”  The soldier wasn’t one to use three words when two would suffice. He reminded Maverick a lot of Dix.

            “We stay.”  Gitana added her own opinion.

            He looked at Joe.  The big man put on his usual grin and didn’t say anything for a moment.  Just when Maverick’s patients had almost run out he chuckled. “Let’s stick around. I haven’t had a chance to do any fishing in a few months.”

            “Ok, that’s four to stay, two to leave. Even if Feral votes against it, the Stay’s have it.”  He looked at the before mentioned girl. “I still want to hear what you say Feral.”

            With a shrug she answered. “No difference. Not care.”

            Maverick nodded.  Deep down he was pleased that things went his way. He could have told the others that they were going to stay no matter what.  But the fact that they voted on it really made a difference in his mind.  He couldn’t help but grin. “Ok.  Lets do a little brush clearing then, and get a shitload of wood for the fire.  We’re gonna stay for a few days.  All I ask is that from here on in, no one goes into the woods alone. If ya gotta take a dump, I’ll dig a small pit and we can put a few blankets up around it. Give a little privacy that way.”  He stared at his companions. ”Fair enough?”

            No one disagreed with him. “Ok! Lets enjoy a little R and R, away from the runnin and chillin.”


*           *            *


            Four days had passed. The group spent almost every waking hour just relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet. Joe spent a huge portion of the time just laying back on the shoreline dozing while he held a fishing rod in his hands. The group feasted on fresh fish almost every night they were there.   Strangely enough, Feral stayed near him, even occasionally bathed while he was watching. Her interest in the man seemed to be more than just a passing fancy even though she never came out and mentioned anything to him.

            Gedoena and Matt were becoming more and more inseparable as the days passed. The hungry mind of the girl devoured every word he said to her.  Maverick was quite pleased when he had discovered that the man had decided to work as a tutor for the woman, even though she was far more intelligent that he was.  The medical skills Matt Possessed were invaluable to the group and if one more person could assist, all the better.

            Maverick couldn’t believe how much he allowed himself to sleep. Every day he slept ten to twelve hours, not consecutively but damned close.  He shared the hunting duties with the rest of his companions, took his fair share of the guard shifts and did a lot of preventative maintenance on the arma wags.

            And he more than made up for the week that he wasn’t intimate with his lover.

            Only once during the four days that they were camping did their unexpected visitor show up. As with the first night, the mutant approached the camp and stayed out of the firelight. It didn’t make any threatening moves towards them, only seemed to be content to just watch unseen.

            Just after sunrise on the fifth day they broke camp and carefully packed all the gear away.  Everyone piled into the APC’s and settled in, ready and refreshed, eager to continue on their journey.

            Maverick was behind the wheel of the first APC and he took the lead, traveling slowly down the damaged predark highway. Gitana took her position in the gunners seat and scanned the horizon as they traveled.

            His thoughts were lost in his memory as the two predark arma wags.  It amazed him how much of the territory he recognized even though they we’re still several hundred miles away from the ranch he grew up on.

            The weather surprised him.  Usually at this time of the year it was pretty cool and rained a great deal, sometimes it even snowed at night. But so far they had been enjoying warm sunny days with nary a cloud in the sky, and only occasionally saw the tell tail sign of a chem. storm off in the distance.

            On a whim he picked up the headphones and put them on, switching on the military band radio. “This is war wag one calling war wag two, do you copy?”

            “Yeah Brett.” Joes deep voice flowed out of the headphones. “What’s up bro?”

            “You up for a quick pit stop?”

            “Where?   You know of someplace near here?  Thought we were still quite a ways off from the next redoubt.”  Joe’s voice asked.

            “We’re about an hour’s travel out of a trading post. Visited it several times when I used to live in these parts. Was still there a few months back, figured what the hell.”

            “Then lead on oh fearless leader.”

            Forty-five minutes later Maverick could see the outline of several buildings.  The trading post had been built on the ruins of a predark truck stop about thirty years back. The original owner had fortified the site using wood and building materials that he had scavenged from the ruined towns and farms that dotted the landscape. Over the decades the trading post had grown into a small ville.  They traded with the Barons to the north for fuel and had the ville wired for electricity that was provided by several gasoline-powered generators.

            People from all over Montana came to the Trading post to hock their wares, make contacts and hear news. It had a permanent population of about fifty, while during the peak summer months as many as five hundred people could be found there at any one time.

            The Trading post was strictly neutral ground. Anyone who wanted a fight had to take it off the grounds or were dealt with permanently by the heavily armed sec forces that the owner used.  It was the perfect place to come to for just about anything.

            “There she is.”  He called out over the military band. “The Trading post.”

            “Impressive looking establishment Brett.”  Joe returned.

            “Wait till you see the insides!”

            Ten minutes later the two war wags pulled up to a small gatehouse just outside the walls of the trading post.  A clean-shaven man in his late twenties stepped out of the gatehouse and rapped on the hull.  “Ya here for trading or something else?”

            Maverick un-strapped himself from the drivers seat and opened the door. “Here for a visit. Any toll to be paid?”

            The toll guard shook his head. “No.  Outlanders are welcome here as long as you keep your blasters holstered and stay out of trouble.”

            Maverick nodded. “Will do.”

            The gatekeeper didn’t make any move to back away. “Yer triple familiar outlander. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you before.”

            “Yup, was here a few months back. Used to ride with the Trader.” The scarred man answered, confirming what the gatekeeper had guessed.

            “See you’ve broken off and decided to start your own little convoy huh?” He asked, admiring the war wags.

            Maverick nodded. “You could say that. So can we get in or we gonna spend the night jawin?”

            He backed away with a nod and waved towards the gate. On cue, the gates slid open revealing the large interior. It was just as the scarred survivalist remembered.  A huge section of the compound was reserved for the horses and wags of the various travelers and traders that made their way to the post.

            Dead center in the fort was the original truck stop.  It still had the restaurant but half the maintenance bays had been converted into a general store where people could trade for whatever they needed.

            Amazingly enough the pumps were still active as they were used on occasion when wags stopped in. Several sec men armed with automatic rifles patrolled around the pumps themselves, looking rather bored.

            To the far wall on the north stood the inn and gaudy. Here travelers could get a place to sleep the night as well as a gaudy if the jack was right. Several scantly clad young women lounged around the front of the building talking to one another and passerby’s, looking for a trick.

            Several other buildings were scattered around the fort, many were the bunkhouses of the fort’s permanent residents, and others were storage and latrines, as well as tanning and curing sheds.

The arrival of the two war wags was a major event. Everyone stopped what they were doing as they pulled up to the section of the compound where they saw a half dozen rebuilt wags.

Maverick hailed the other wag over his intercom. “Hey, Joe, get someone to volunteer to stay with the wags. Keep em locked up and the cannon primed. We may not have to worry too much about thieves but you never do know.”

“Sure Brett. Mitch and Feral just volunteered to stay.”

Maverick looked to his companions.  “Matt? How about you and Gedoena Stay with the wag?  Geddy, I want you to stay inside. I think you know why.”

Her tail swished in agitation. “Yes Brett. I know.”  She pouted.

“Chica, it is for your own good, you know that.” *Gitana ruffled the girls hair.  “I’ll get some treats for you and if they have any predark books I’ll trade for them ok?”

Still pouting, the young mutant nodded. “Ok.”

Maverick clasped her shoulder. “I’m sorry baby, I don’t want to make you do this. We just have to.  I’ll make it up to you ok?  Daddy promises.”

He caught the loving look that Gitana gave him as she listened to him.  His eyes caught her unconsciously rubbing her flat belly.  “Matt? You stand guard, Ged will man the cannon.”

“Sure Brett. But I want to look around this place as well.”  Chance nodded with a grin.

Gitana already had the door open and was outside waiting for him.  “You’ll get the chance. I’ll send you and Feral out together for a walkabout.”

The predark scientist paled.  “Feral?”

Maverick burst out laughing at the look of horror on the other man’s face.  Feral never hid her hate for the man.  Maverick figured that it was out of the friendship and kinship that she had for Gedoena was the reason the man was still breathing.  “I’m just fuckin with you man. You can head out with Joe or myself.”

Chance breathed a sigh of relief. “Ah, good.” He grinned.

“Hang tight, stay on orange.”

Joe approached him and slugged him once, then gave Gitana a swat on the rear. “You two ready to do some trading?”

Gitana laughed and slapped his arm. “Hey! That’s for Amante only Joe.”

Brett felt the ugly twinge of jealousy creep out from the dark recesses of his mind but he quickly beat it back. He knew that Joe was only playing as Gitana had done several similar things to him in the past few weeks.  She was his and his alone, and the roughhousing was just friendly comradely between good friends.

Together the three companions walked towards the main building in the center of the fort.  People nodded as they passed. Maverick’s eyes never stopped moving from face to face.  Old habits died hard, he was constantly on the lookout for potential enemies.

They passed a corral and the scarred warrior stopped. He walked up to the fence and looked at the horses penned up.  Gitana noticed something in his demeanor change.  Only someone as intimate with the scarred man would have seen the subtle change. “What is it Amante?”

Much to her surprise a huge brown and black speckled pony came right up to him and nuzzled his hand.  Maverick smiled and stroked the velvety softness of the pony’s muzzle.  “I’ll be a stickies plaything…”

Joe joined them and watched, his face unreadable for the first time in a long time. Gitana placed her hand on the survivalists shoulder. “What?” She repeated.

Maverick smiled and turned to her.  “I helped bring this girl into the world about five years back. I named her speckled hills.”  Maverick was clearly beaming with pride.  “Look at her, she’s a beauty!”

Gitana never had seen this particular side of the man. He was a killer, a lover and would be a great father but she never imagined he had a love for horses. “She is very beautiful Amante. But are you sure that she’s the same one?”

He pointed to a scar on the pony’s flank. It was a circle with a large M imposed in it. Four arrows pointed out from the circle, to each direction. “She is. That’s my families’ brand.”

A stable hand made his way over to the trio. “Need something Outlander?”

“This horse, where did you get it?”  He asked, still stroking the horse’s muzzle.

“The Maverick ranch.  They brought in several of their breeding mares and traded them off about a month back.”

“What are they coming on hard times or something?” The powerfully build man’s eyes narrowed slightly.  He didn’t find that likely but it had been years since he last had seen his family.

The stable hand shook his head. “Not that I know. I reckon that they just had a surplus and they needed some decent blasters and ammo, so they traded them in.”  The young man grinned. “Why you asking Outlander?”

He considered telling the man, but for now he wanted to keep his identity secret.  A few people were bound to recognize him but with the added layer of muscle and the battle scars, he figured that he could get away with it for a little while.

“No reason.  We’re figuring of heading down that way and paying them a visit, do a little trading. Hear they’ve got some of the best steak this side of the darks.”

The stable boy shrugged. “Wouldn’t know Outlander. Never been there myself.”

Brett continued to stroke the muzzle of the pony.  “What are the chances of paying you some jack and taking a couple out for a few days?”

The stable hand looked at the survivalist as if he suddenly had sprouted horns and was currently doing a naked dance to the god of radiation. “Say again?  You stupe or something?”

“Never,” Brett’s hand shot out and clasped the other mans bicep, his fingers digging in deeply. “Ever call me that.”

“Alright, sorry!”  Yelped the stable hand. “Fuckin chill outlander.”

He let the man go. “I asked you a question, I want a proper answer.”

“Go see the owner. Talk to him.”  Rubbing his arm he pointed at the main building.

Gitana took the man’s arm and lead him away from the stable. “That wasn’t very nice Brett.”

“Never said I was nice Gitana. You know that.”  He answered her with a uncaring shrug.

She sighed and walked with him into the main building.  “I know Amante but I would prefer if you stopped doing that all the time. We’re here to relax and trade, not get into a gunfight.”

Maverick ignored her as he looked about. The place hadn’t changed.  The main portion of the building was still used as an eatery.  There were several people seated at the tables and the bar itself eating and drinking. One of the corner booths, left over from the predark days was hosting a poker game. Seemed that wherever people met to trade and eat they would also gamble.

The second part of the building was made up of the trading post itself. His eyes looked over the shelves filled with all manner of goods. Predark clothing, weapons, ammo, and other goods as well as bags of grain and seed, bins of vegetables and even a few tanks filled with live fish from the near by rivers. Two turnstiles were filled to capacity with hundreds of predark paperback novels, all worn and yellow but still legible. 

Gitana made her way over to the books and started to thumb through them.  Joe nodded once to Maverick and sat down at the counter and was almost instantly set upon by the bartender.  They spoke quietly and the man grabbed a bottle from under the counter and filled a shot glass.

He made his way over to the counter in the trading post, seeing the owner.  The owner was a grizzled man in his late fifties.  He stood at about six foot even and was still solidly built despite the age.  His hair was black as coal and his skin darkly tanned.  The nose was long and proud, nestled between two high cheekbones.  His brown eyes twinkled and there was no mistaking the native blood that ran thick in his veins.  The man looked up once and grinned. “Howdy Outlander. Welcome to the Trading Post.  Ya here for trading or a meal?”

“Little of both Reg.” He answered as he placed a handful of jack on the counter. “Need rooms for five people for at least a day.”

At hearing his voice the owner looked up and studied the face of the man standing before him. “Yer the Outlander with the wags, ain’t ya?  And you seem triple familiar to me. Passed by this way a while back?”

Maverick nodded. “Yeah, that’s me. And yeah, passed by this way in the deep freeze a few months back. Used to ride with the Trader.”

Reg snapped his fingers. “Ace on the line! I’ll be a mutie love. Maverick. Brett Maverick. Shit son, been a Screamwing’s age. How the fuck are ya doing?”  He reached out and grabbed the survivalist’s hand and gave it a powerful pump.

So much for going unrecognized he grumbled to himself. “You answer that Reg. Got a couple of predark arma-wags, and a good crew of my own.”

“Why’d you spilt off from Trader Brett? He’s got the best crew in all the Deathlands.”

“Had Reg, Had.”  He sighed and took the jack back. “How much for the rooms?”  He grumbled, trying to change the subject.

The owner quoted him the rate and he counted it out. “Got ambushed up in Mocsin.  Chilled Teague but Strasser got away scott free.”

Reg shook his head, not believing his ears. “Radfire… I can’t believe it. What about the crew, they all get chilled as well?”

He nodded. “Most did. Cohn, Cawdor, Dix and a handful of others made it out. We headed into the darks with Trader. Lost him there. Just up and wandered off.  Cawdor took most of the others with him and they continued on foot after we got stopped by a blizzard.”

Slipping the offered jack off the counter the man listened to each word. “Go on.”

“Waited over four days for them to come back and next thing we know a bunch of the local Amarinds set upon us. Had to give up the wag and we ran.  Made it out in one piece, only a few left.”

“So where did you get the arma wags?”

Instead of getting mad, he chuckled and waved his finger in front of the old man. “You honestly think I’m gonna tell you my personal trade secrets?”

“No,”  Reg Laughed and shrugged. “Yer just too ornery to give it up without a fight.”

            “Fuckin A I am Reg.” He smiled and shook his head.  “Got a request, bit of an odd one.”


            He pointed over his shoulder to the stables. “I See my family brought a few horses in a while back. Was wondering if I could take a couple for a day or two. Haven’t been horse back riding in years.  I’ll leave you enough trade goods and jack to cover the cost of them.”

            The owner nodded. “Yer right that is a triple strange request. But a fair one. I see you got the jack, but what sort of trade goods you talking about?”

            The survivalist grinned. “You always need ammo for your blasters, and I could provide you with some new M16A-2s. Predark Autoblasters right out of the factory sealed boxes. Can still smell the gun oil.”

            That revelation caught the owners attention. “I’ll be willing to cut you a deal for a couple of those. A weeks night and all the food and gut rot you can handle, you can have a couple of the horses and if you feel like it, my best gaudy for the whole time.  She’ll be as clean as a new born. That’s my promise.”

            “He won’t be needing that Amigo.”  Gitana announced as she dropped several of the predark books on the table.  Maverick looked at her and smiled, seeing her face looking slightly cross. “Any woman touch him and I’ll chill them.”

            Reg drank in the dark beauties features.  “Ok, we’ll forget about the gaudies then. I can’t have you chilling any of my girls now can I?”

            With an amused chuckle she held out her hand to him. “I am just pulling your chain Amigo. I’m Gitana.  Brett’s woman.”

            “I kind of figured that.”  He said with a slight chuckle. The books caught his eyes.  “A reader huh? Don’t find too many of them around here.”

            “Actually they’re for one of my crew members. She’s a little laid up right now and can’t be moved. Got bit by a snake and is triple sick. She’ll be fine but we keep her comfortable.  She needs something to do until her leg is healed up and she can walk without feeling like a scalie is using her stomach to wash his underwear in.”

            He grabbed a box and put the books in it. “Tell you what, bring me a couple of those blasters and you can have the books for free.  Deal?”

            Maverick nodded. “Deal.  I’ll call one of my people to bring them by for you.”  With that the scarred man pulled the small two-way military communication radio out of his pocket and flicked it on. “Matt, I want you to bring three M16’s and two full mags each over to the main building. Gitana will be waiting for you at the door.”


            Reg brought out several glasses from under the counter and grabbed a bottle of clear liquid and filled all three of with the fluid.  He handed one to Maverick, a second to Gitana and took the third for himself.  “Drink up son.”

            The three of them downed the liquid quickly. “Fireblast, that’s good hooch Reg. Still brewin yer own huh?”  Maverick said with a wheeze.  The alcohol was indeed potent but went down smooth.

            “Yup.”  The owner answered as he poured a second glass for himself. “I’ll give you and your crew a couple of bottles as well. Take it on the road with you when you head out.  When do you want the horses?”

“Tomorrow, we’re gonna rest up for the night, do some trading with ya first. Mebbe get in a game or three with some of the other Outlanders.”

He nodded. “Fair enough Brett. So, ya gonna stop by the ranch and check up on the family?”

            Gitana looked at her lover, gauging his reaction. With a shrug he spoke to Reg. “Was thinking about it. But not sure if I will or not. I didn’t exactly leave on the best of terms.”

            “Never too late to set things right with kin Brett. Go down and check in on em. Probably be triple glad to see you. Especially with the wags and blasters you’ve got now.”

            Her small hand closed over his and she squeezed it gently without speaking.  Maverick cocked an eyebrow at her, not entirely sure what she meant.  “Mebbe.”  He answered Reg without taking his eyes off his lover.

            “When do you think the baby is gonna be due?”  The old man said point blank.

            As one the survivalist and the Spanish woman turned and stared at the old man in amazement. “How did you know?”  Gitana blurted before Maverick could get his vocal cords working.

            Reg Smiled. “I’m a grandfather three times over. Got five rugrats of my own. I can tell.”

            Maverick shook his head, unable to keep the smile from coming. “We figure about another six and a half, mebbe seven months.”

            “To your unborn son or daughter. May they bring you all the happiness that you could want.” He announced loudly and raised the shot glass.  Maverick and Gitana followed suit and the three clinked the glasses together and drained them.

            “Thanks Reg, that’s triple decent of you. We plan to hit the coast before our baby’s born, then settle down. I don’t plan to run and trade for the rest of my life.”

            “So what are your plans then?”

            “Haven’t thought that far ahead.  Time will tell.  We’ll figure out something though.”  Shrugged the scarred man.

            Before Reg could reply Matt arrived. He had three of the blasters slung over his shoulder and was carrying ammo bag filled with rounds and magazines.  “Here ya go Brett. Just as you asked.”

            He took one of the blasters and held it out to Reg. The old man grabbed it and examined it closely.  A few minutes later the old man smiled and placed the weapon on the counter. “Only seen blasters of this quality a few times in the years I’ve run this place.”

            “I take it we’ve got a trade then?”  Maverick asked.

            Reg Nodded and reached for the other two weapons. “I’d be triple stupe not to take the trade.”

            “One week, rooms for my crew, all the food and gut rot we can handle.  I get the horses for a day or two and we can take some other things as well, like the books and mebbe some other items?”  Maverick repeated what they discussed a few minutes back.

            “Yup. Feel free.  If ya got some time later tonight I wouldn’t mind catchin up on what you’ve been doing. Barely had a chance to say hi when you and the Trader passed through here back during the deep freeze.”

            “I’ll see what I can do Reg.”


*           *            *


            “You think that’s him?”  Growled a burly man dressed in buckskins.  He was seated at the table with several other men, all had a predatory air about them.

            “Yeah, that’s him alright. Never forget a scarred face like that.” Replied a second man, a little smaller than the first. He was dressed in a combination of buckskins and predark military battledress. “Boss sure is gonna be happy to find him here.”  He added sarcastically.

            A third man pulled out a battered .45 long barreled blaster and stared hatefully at the scarred warrior standing and talking to the trading post owner. “Chill em now, boss will be triple happy. Mebbe give us a bigger share, some prime sluts too.”

            The first speaker glared at the man holding the weapon. “Put it away now asshole. We start a blaster fight here and it’ll get us all chilled.  Then where would ya be? Fuckin mutie worm food.”

            Unhappily the berated man put the blaster back in it’s holster. “Jump him and his slut when they leave?”

            The second man slapped the speaker in the back of the head. “Use your fuckin gray matter asshole! Do that and we’ll have the sec men on us faster than mutie blowflies on a stillborn.”

            “There’s that,” Piped in the first speaker. “And there is also the fact that he’s got them triple fancy predark arma wags.  They take several people to crew so if it’s just him and his slut, that means that he’s got crew still inside the wags. We try and jump them and BAM! We’re chilled.”

            A forth man, average looking and wearing clean jeans and a heavy denim jacket slowly chewed on the end of a hand rolled cigar. “I’ll talk to the boss. You three keep your eyes peeled and clean the shit outta your ears.  Don’t do nothing unless you’re told to. Got that?”

            Grumbling, the other three men agreed to the fourth’s Demand.

            “Good. If that is Maverick, the boss is gonna want to chill him on his own. Anyone else try and he’ll take his frustration out on you. Been months since the breakout and the boss is still mad as hell and looking  to claim the blood debt.” He pushed away from the table and walked out of the building, leaving trial of rich cigar smoke following in his wake.

Outside the cleanly dressed man let his eyes flow over the sight of the two predark arma wags. Despite the road dirt coating both machines he could tell that they were in pristine condition and he shook his head, admiring the vehicles.  Talk about a bonus. The boss would be getting his revenge and a couple of powerful war wags in the process. They could take over a barony with the wags.

            Smiling he walked over to the Inn and entered, nodding once to the sec-men posted.  They had paid in advance and had not caused any trouble so far, so the sec-men only gave them a passing glance as they came and went.  He climbed the rickety stairs to the second level of the inn and walked to the end of the hall. One of the Boss’ own sec men was posted at the door.  As he approached the man nodded to him and opened the door.

            Greaves was standing at the window staring out over the trading post; his eyes were locked on the two arma wags.  “Figured you’d be stopping in Dan.”  He said without turning. “That was Maverick, wasn’t it?”

            “Yeah.  Him, the woman, and one of the escaped slaves.”  Dan confirmed as he took a drag on the cigar. “Don’t know the other one who came in with the blasters though. Probably someone they picked up on the way.”

            Jim Greaves turned away from the window. His forehead was furrowed in thought or anger. Possibly both. If he had just shown up on foot or in normal wags, I’d say stay low and take him when his crew left. But the wags present one hell of a random factor. Can’t afford to try anything then.”

            “What are your plans then Jim?”  Dan asked, rolling the cigar in his mouth.

            The slaver thought about the question. “Recce and intel gathering for the time being. I want to know how many people he has, what kind of blasters they got, as well as if anyone stays with the wags, if they’ve boobied them, and since he rode with Trader, that is pretty much a go there.”

            Dan nodded, mentally taking notes to pass on to the rest of the slavers later on.

            “But most importantly I want the boys to stay low. And find out how long Maverick and his crew are gonna be staying. That way we can plan our course of action.”  His steely blue eyes narrowed and bored into the other man. “I want his heart. I want his woman and I want those wags. He cost me way too fuckin much with that escape.  Fuckin ribs hurt for weeks after getting shot. “  Greaves didn’t add the fact that he missed Marty, the tough girl that used to share his bed, to the other man.”

            “I wonder if he still has that mutie with him.”  Dan spoke the question that he had been pondering for several minutes. The strange woman was pure chilling machine and incredibly fast. If she was still with them, which would increase the difficulty of taking the man and his wags a thousand fold.

            “Just more intel for you and your boys to gather Dan.”

            The cleanly dressed man nodded. “Yeah. I’ll do what I can. None of them recognized us so shouldn’t be too hard to get the info.”

            Greaves nodded. “Hope to it. Keep the boys low and gather what data you can.”

            Dan nodded, leaving behind only a halo of rich smelling cigar smoke.


*           *            *


            Joe picked up his drink and joined Brett and Gitana.  The simple smile he always carried never left his face. “Could be triple trouble Brett.”  He said quietly as he sat down with the others.  Matt ahd already gathered the books up that Gitana had picked out for Gedoena and returned to the APC.

            Maverick adjusted his black Cerberus ball cap and glanced inconspicuously around the big man’s torso. “The Outlanders playin cards I take it?”

            He nodded as he took a drink. “Yup. They’ve been watching all of us ever since you walked in.  If looks could chill…” He didn’t finish the sentence.

            Gitana nodded to him. “Think they’d be stupe enough to open a dance here?”

            Brett shook his head and removed the cap, bending the lip slightly to get that just perfect curve to it. He stared at the embroidered three headed dog on it. “Doubt it.  They look like moutain men but the blasters that we’re carryin as well as those the sec men are using should be enough to deter them from any hostile action.”

            Gitana nodded at the logic as she brushed a strand of hair away from her face.

            “Joe, head to the wags, tell Feral, Ged, and Mitch to stay on triple red. Don’t let anyone except us in the wags.  Have a bad feeling about this.”  Maverick ordered replacing the cap.

            “I hear that bro.”  He stood up and finished the last of his drink and made his way over to the exit. Almost at the same time the trio of men stood up and dropped a handful of Jack on the table as payment for their drinks.

            Joe exited and the three men followed. Maverick pulled his Desert Eagle and stood strode to the door, expecting to see the men trying to jump his friend. But they were making a bee line to the hotel. He shook his head and slid the blaster back in its holster and returned to the table.

            “I don’t like this Gitana.”  He shook his head. “Mebbe we should just leave.”

            “Lets see what happens tonight Amante.”  She clasped his hand.

            He sighed and entwined his fingers with hers. “We’ll take a vote on it again. Before we take the rooms. This is one of those stay or run for the hills situations.”

            “You’re our leader Amante. I want you to make the decision here. If you come and take a vote every time something happens we’d never get anywhere.”

            He mulled it over, getting mixed signals. With a sigh he shrugged. “Ok, ok! I’ll figure out what to do. However if we were smart, we’d take off right away.”

            “I know you’ll do what’s best for the group.”

            He nodded and went over to Reg and held out his hand. “Keys Reg. We’re gonna stay.”

            The man smiled and pointed his arm in the direction of the hotel. “I’ll send someone over right away, they’ll have the best rooms ready for you in about an hour. Fair enough?”

            “Fair enough.”


*           *            *


            Darkness swept over the countryside by the time the companions had their rooms and had talked over the situation.  With the exception of the two mutants and the cougar, they were all seated at the table eating a home cooked meal of fresh steak, garden greens and several large bottles of the local brew. He changed his mind, knowing that the two women could handle the weapons and take care of themselves with the arma wags locked up.  But he did send Joe and Matt with food for both so they wouldn’t go hungry.

            The discussion had been fairly heated but finally they all agreed on what to do.  “Ok, so it’s settled. We’re gonna stay but keep our eyes peeled and stay on orange the entire time. Right?”            Maverick asked after washing down a chunk of potato with the local beer.

            His four companions nodded in agreement.

            The room was filled with patrons who were engaged in idle conversation as well as a few games of chance.  The din in the room was almost overpowering so it gave them all a chance to talk without having to worry about being overheard.

            Joe shook his head. “Brett, I think it’s a triple bad idea you taking off like that for a horse back ride. I just don’t trust the outlanders that were watching us.”

            Maverick nodded. “We’ll leave before sun up, Reg will let us out through a back door and said he’d have a couple of horses waiting for us.  We’re taking serious blasters and all the ammo we can carry.  And a couple of hand-helds. That way we can be in touch.”

            Mitch shook his head. “Tactically it is a hell of a mistake Brett.”

            He slammed his hands down on the table, making several of the patrons jump and stare at them.  “Enough. We’ve argued about this long enough. The choice has been made so that is that ok?”  His anger filled eyes stared several seconds at each of his companions.

            “Ease off Brett. Sorry.” Mitch held his hands up before him defensively.

            “Mitch, Gitana and I will be staying with the wags tonight. You, Matt, Feral and Joe can use the rooms.  But double up ok? We don’t need any possible ambushes.”

            That ended the debate once and for all. As one the other four stood up and left heading out of the bar.  Joe paused only once to look back and glance at his friend and the leader.  He simply nodded and closed the door behind him.  Maverick and Gitana stayed for around an hour later before they both got up and made their way over to the APC’s.

            Punching the entry code, Maverick opened the door to the first APC and was about to step inside when his nose caught an familiar odor and heavy breathing.  He quickly stepped out and closed the door.  He looked at Gitana and shook his head. “She grew up so fast….”

            Gitana couldn’t help but chuckle at the look on her lovers face. “She did, there is no doubting that. But face it Amante, she is a fully grown woman and has a woman’s desires and it is obvious to anyone that she is so much in love with Matt.”

            Growling slightly he opened the other APC and climbed in. Once Gitana joined him he locked it up and leaned back in the drivers seat and closed his eyes. He felt the small dark skinned beauty slide into the co driver’s seat. “It really bothers you doesn’t it Brett?”

            His answer was a curt nod.

            “Don’t let it bother you Brett. Just remember what I said. She is a full-grown woman.  And she is always going to love you, no matter what.”

            “You think so?”  He opened his eye and looked at her, then stretched his legs out.

            “She’s your little girl.  Every time she looks at you there is adoration in her purple eyes.  All she wants is your approval.”

            “I guess your right Gitana.”

            “Of course I am. I’m a woman. We’re always right silly.”  She giggled.

            He leaned the seat as far back as he could and kicked off his combat boots.  “Get some sleep babe. We’re leaving before sunup.  I’ll wake you with enough time to get our gear packed.”

            With a nod she stood up and grabbed a couple of blankets from a storage compartment and kissed him hotly on the lips before laying down next to him on the floor.


*           *            *


            The quiet beeping of his writs chron woke him up just as the familiar nightmare was beginning. He wiped the sweat off his brow and saw that the alarm woke his lover up as well. She stretched and smiled at him, her dark eyes still sleepy.

            The survivalist caressed her face and stepped over her.  Her grabbed two back packs filled with rations and gear, as well as extra ammo for his and her weapons.  As usual he donned his body armor and handed Gitana hers.  She slipped the Kevlar plates on with practiced ease even as she combed her hair straight and tied it into a convenient ponytail.

            He sat back down and quickly field stripped his SPAS 15 and oiled every part. Not once did his eyes leave the lovely form of his mates, his hands going through the practiced motions. “What about your blasters?”

            “Do we have enough time?”  She asked as she drew her twin gold plated .45’s and placed them on the seat next to her.

            Maverick handed the gun oil and rag to her. “Always make time.  Dirty gun can misfire at the wrong time and chill you as certain as if you put it to your head and pulled the trigger.”

            “Another one of Traders famous quotes?”  She asked, knowing the answer as she started to pull the weapons apart.  Her hands were not as adept at the field stripping the way his were but she still could do a decent job.

            He stood up and climbed into the gunner seat in the copula.  He opened the ob slits and looked outside.  He could see that the bar was still active and there were sec men walking here and there, as well as several posted on the walls. But other than that the compound was empty.

            “Looks clear babe.  Just sec men and a few stragglers at the bar.  Doubt anyone is gonna try something stupe.”

            “I hope your right Brett.”  She said quietly and holstered the oiled and cleaned blasters.

            Brett locked up the APC and headed out along the wall, passing one patrol. They were expecting them so they didn’t raise a challenge. Already the dark sky was starting to show signs of the false dawn.  A few short minutes later they were at the back exit and true to his word, Reg was there with several of his sec men.  Two healthy looking ponies were present as well, decked out in full tack and the saddle bags were bulging with supplies and bed rolls.

            “Here you go Brett.”  He passed the reigns to the scarred man. To his surprise it was the horse he was admiring earlier that day. Reg chuckled. “I see you approve.”

He leapt into the saddle with practiced ease.  “Reg, we’ll be gone for about two, mebbe three days. We’re taking a couple of hand-held with us, and my crew know that.”

            “In case there is any trouble, do they know where you’re headed?”  He asked and stood aside as the guards opened the exit to the compound.

            “Yup.”  Confirmed the scarred warrior. “I couldn’t get around not telling them. We’re heading south to Lake Mason.  Figure about three or four hours there.”

            “Mason lake?”  He groaned and shook his head. “Rad blasted Brett, you gotta go some where else.”

            He pulled the horse up short and let Gitana ride up beside him. “Why’s that?”

            “That’s Ghoul territory. They’ve been spotted several times over the past year and a bit.”  The old man warned.

            Maverick did pause. “But have they attacked anyone yet?”  His mind raced back over the years, remembering the mutants that were hiding around the ranch.”

            Reg Shrugged. “Unknown. Might have.  But the few travelers from that way said they weren’t bothered.  Just spotted them occasionally. However, doesn’t mean that the muties didn’t ambush others and chill em for food. Ghouls are cannies after all.”

            Brett nodded. “True enough, but they also prefer their meat well aged.  But thanks for the warning. We’ll stay on red.”

            The old man mumbled under his breath and swatted the rear of Maverick’s horse.  The animal took off at a leisurely trot. Gitana’s brown pony kept pace right beside him.

            Well after the sun had risen they were out of sight of the trading post. The trip had been uneventful and silent, the two lovers content with their own thoughts.  The Spanish woman finally broke the silence. “You didn’t seem too concerned about the ghouls Amante.”

            He looked at her and grinned, his head bouncing up and down in time to the pony’s gait. “Not too much.  Even though this is ghoul territory, they tend to keep to themselves. Like I said. And our visitor the other night. Well if they wanted fresh meat they would have come for it.”

            “I can’t help but notice the change that has come over you Amante.”  She said, deciding to try and change the topic.

            “How’s that?”

            “You took our advice, did what we asked. Got rest and even despite the potential dangers of going out on our own like this, I’m doing it because we need the time together and away from the others.”

            Gitana brought her pony up alongside his and took his hand. She brought it to her lips and kissed it. “Somehow, you seem, well content.”

            He stared at his lover.  “How? I’m still stressed out, still having those triple damned nightmares.”

            “Yes, but you are relaxing as well.  And the nightmares are slowing down, right?”

            “Yeah…” He drawled out slowly.

            “And you seemed to perk up as soon as we came into the state.  You’re home no matter what happened that caused you to leave. And you are thinking of seeing your family aren’t you?”

            “Yeah….” Maverick agreed.

            She smiled and kissed his hand a second time. “I want to meet your family as well Brett. The father and mother of the Great Brett Maverick.  Heir apparent to the legendary Trader’s knowledge and trading routes.”

            The scarred warrior snorted. “That goes to Cawdor and Dix.”

            She made a point of looking around her dramatically. “I don’t see them here. So what I say goes.  After all, you’ve got the APC’s and the crew, and we’ve got the blasters!  Anyone mess with Trader Mavericks’ crew find themselves on the last train to the coast triple fast!”

            “Yeah, right!  Fireblast girl, you sure got the imagination on you.”  He took off his Cerberus cap and wiped his forehead.  The sun was partially obscured by the chem. clouds but it was warming up rapidly and promised to be a hot day.”

            Around ten in the morning they finally crested a small rise and caught the sunlight glistening off the still surface of the lake.  He pulled the pony up short and pulled out a pair of military issue binoculars and scanned the edge of the lake.  Gitana did the same, knowing that two pairs of eyes had a better chance of spotting trouble than one pair did.


            “Noting.  A few ducks on the surface but it’s quiet.” Maverick answered as he finished his pan.

            “Ducks hmm?”  She said, her interest piqued. “Lets do a little hunting. Been a muties age since I’ve eaten fresh duck.”

            Maverick held up his hand.  “I thought I just heard something.”  He breathed out quietly as he tilt his head to the side, straining to catch the elusive noise a second time.

            Gitana tilted her head in the same direction and they both listened for nearly three minutes.

            The survivalist shook his head. “Must be just hearing things baby.”

            “What did you hear?”

            “Sounded like a wag engine. But I can’t be sure.”  He kept his head tilted to see if the sound would appear again. “Wags are pretty scarce, even around here so close to the oil barons.  But then again with the strange atmosphere and the way sound travels, could have been a car or something from as far away as the Cific.”

            She curtly nodded once.  It was true. Things in the Deathlands were always very strange. She recalled seeing a speedboat nestled in the upper reaches of a huge oak tree in the mountain passes of Colorado, miles upon miles away from the nearest lake or river.  And it was true.  Sometimes due to atmospheric conditions a conversation could be heard that was taking place hundreds of miles away.

            That was just one of the many phenomena’s that were unheard of before the Skydark.   Now they were common every day occurrences.

            The pair used a deer trail and soon found themselves at a sandy beach along side the lake. The ruins of a cabin were visible just a little ways off.  The beach was not a natural occurrence; it was something that the original owners of the cabin must have added. Strange how it too survived the Skydark and the long winters that took place afterwards relatively unchanged. 

            He unpacked the lean to from the saddlebag and started to set it up while she walked around and gathered up large branches from the ground to be used as fire.  They worked in conjunction, and soon they had a small fire pit built and the wood piled in it, ready to be lit.

            When Maverick turned around to face the lake he was greeted by a perfectly shaped, deeply tanned naked rear bent over.  Gitana had stripped naked and was folding her clothing neatly in a pile. “What are you doing?”  He swallowed, his throat suddenly dry as the desert.

            “Could you stand guard for me Amante? I want to wash the dirt and sweat of the road off.”  She stretched languidly and tested the water with her toe.  “Perfect!” She announced and stepped into the clear, clean water.

            “Bad idea Gitana. Lakes and rivers are usually filled with all manner of triple bad muties.”  He squeaked out, his eyes freely roaming her supple form.

            “I’ll stay right by the shoreline then.”  She went another two feet out and sat down in the water and sighed.  “You stand watch like I asked?” She giggled slightly.

            “What’s standing sure ain’t my watch, that’s for fireblasted sure.”  He mumbled.  Despite the number of times they had been intimate there was no denying that she was a truly beautiful woman.

            Like the sentries of old, he stood on the beach and kept watch, not only over the surrounding terrain but also of the beautiful woman who was his and his alone.


*           *            *


            “Are you sure about this?”  Greaves growled as he stared at the scruffily dressed man standing before him.

            He nodded curtly, refusing to be intimidated.  “Enough jack was spent to grease the sec-man’s palm.  It’s accurate.”

            Greaves grinned. It was not a pretty sight. “Ok, I want ten of the men to head out right now. Follow the highway south for about fifteen miles. Then wait till I arrive.”

            The man nodded and turned on his heels and strode out of the room.

            “I don’t like this Jim.”  Dan confessed.  The other man was seated at the window and was staring out at the arma wags. “Makes no sense that Maverick would just up and leave like that, taking his woman with him.”  He finally turned and faced the former slaver.  “Smells like a chilling trap Jim.”

            “I know.  But I’m not going to give up this opportunity to nail his outlander, mutie lovin ass for what he did to us.”  His voice was as cold and hard as the dirt on a child killer’s grave in the deep of winter when he spoke.

            Dan shook his head and squeezed the bridge of his nose.  “Alright, you made it triple clear what you want to do. But you don’t keep me around for my charming personality. I’m your advisor. And I say don’t do it.”

            Greaves hefted his hunting rifle and worked the lever, checking the mechanism to make sure it moved as smooth as silk. “True enough, but we’re doing this. One way or another. That’s that. Clear?”

            “Crystal.”  He said quietly.

            “Good. Now you’re gonna stay behind with the other half of our crew and keep your eyes on those wags at all time. I want if you somehow can do it, lure or chill Mavericks crew, or somehow get them outta those iron monsters.”

            “Did a little checking. He’s got at the most one or two people in the wags. Rest of his crew are staying in the hotel with us.”

            Greaves looked up from the hunting rifle. “Suggestions?”  He asked.

            “First,” Dan said as he bit off the end of a fresh cigar and spat it out. “First we co-ordinate our assault. Hit the two wags and his people here without hesitation at the exact same time.  Use knives and silenced blasters for the crew. Try to do it during the meal times.  That way less chance of notice.”

            “We’re gonna be noticed no matter what we do.”  Graves said. “But I’m hoping we can get the wags.  If we can take them, the fort’s ours as well. But in case we don’t, make sure that the wags are outside.”

            Dan listened without comment.

            “I want several men posted near the exit that can provide cover fire. If things go bad kill the sec men at the gate only so we can get the fuck outta dodge.”

            “I’ll do it.”

            “Other suggestions?”  Greaves asked.

            “Secondly, get one man into the bar, make sure that he’s picking up some goods when the shit hits the fan.  Have him as close as possible to Reg.  Plant some C-4 on him and keep the detonator handy.  If things go bad, boom.  Chill Reg and cause enough damage to cover our


            Greaves steepled his hands before him and nodded, giving Dan a cold smile. “Good.  I like that.  Would have thought of it but you beat me too it.  Got someone in mind?”

            Dan chuckled nastily. “Oh yeah.  A triple stupe inbred.  I’ll just give him a small sack and tell him it’s full of grain, to trade it to Reg.”

            “I’m counting on you to get this done.”  Greaves growled quietly. He stood up and looked out the window of the compound again. “Don’t disappoint me Dan.”

            He blew out a stream of strong, rich cigar smoke.  “Haven’t done so yet Jim.  Don’t plan to now.”


*           *            *


            Gitana stroked Mavericks hair, noticing a single gray hair in his otherwise nearly black mane of thick hair. He was laying on his back with his head in her lap as they both stared out over the lake.  She took it in her fingers and tugged it out.  He winced and glowered at her. “Fireblast, what did you do that for?”

            “You’re starting to turn Grey Amante.”  She held the strand out to him to see.

            His steel gray eyes latched onto the gray strand in her finger. “Shit...”

            She kissed his forehead.  “Your still a fine looking man you know. Even with the scars.  I figure that you’d look pretty dignified like that.”

            “Fuck that noise Gitana. I’d look just plain old. Or kid will figure I’m his grandpa and now his father.”

            “Are you so sure that it’s going to be a boy?”  She traced the trio of scars on his cheek gently, wondering when he would finally tell her the full story behind them.

            “It’s gonna be a boy.” Maverick said and closed his eyes. “Every first born in my blood line has been a male.  That is the way it’s been since before the Skydark.”

            “Radfire!”  Gitana declared totally surprised.

            Maverick had his blaster out of the leather and in his hand before she had finished the single word.  He was already scanning the surrounding terrain, looking for the danger. He spotted what had caught her attention almost instantly.

            On the other side of the lake he could see a trio of black skinned, white haired people.  It was a small Ghoul family group.  The male was dressed in a clean pair of doe skin pants and was bare chested.  He had a hunting rifle in one hand.  The female was wearing a soft leather dress and held a youngster in her arms.  She was bending down and filling a plastic pop bottle with water from the lake.  The trio of mutants saw them almost at the same time. The male hefted the hunting rifle but Maverick stayed his hand, lowering the blaster.

            “Amante?”  Gitana’s shocked voice reached him.

            “Don’t raise you’re blaster. They’re the good ones.”  He said in a normal conversational tone.

            “But how?”  She asked surprised.

            “Simple. Ever seen a ghoul that was dressed in anything except rags? Or one that carried a blaster?”  He pointed out and stood up slowly, making sure that the male could see that he was holstering the weapon.”

            Gitana followed his example and stood as well. She slid one of her gold plated .45’s back into the holster and moved her hand away. “I understand. You know this area better than I do, so I trust you.”

            Maverick looked at the trio of mutants and raised his hand and waved.  The male lowered his rifle and waved back, but never let the rifle down completely.  He stood over the smaller female as she capped the bottle.  She looked up and even from the distance separating them Maverick could see her smile.  With that the trio turned and walked into the trees and were quickly swallowed up.

            “Radfire! They were actually out in the daytime.”  Gitana’s eyes followed the trio until she couldn’t see them any more.

            “Yeah, that they were.”  Maverick walked over to the ponies and checked the saddlebags, making sure they were secure.  He stroked the soft nose of his pony and dug out a dried apple from his pocket and fed it to the grateful pony. “Could be one of the many family groups that we traded with over the years.”

            Just then he could clearly hear the sounds of a wags engine off in the distance.  “Shit.”

            His lover cocked her head and listened as well. “Isn’t one of the arma wags. Sounds like it’s misfiring.”

            Maverick climbed into the saddle. “I’m gonna recce the highway.”  He spurred the pony into action. The highway was less than a mile off and from the sounds of the wag It would be several minutes before they would be able to see it.

            She wasn’t as adept in the saddle as her lover but she mounted up and followed him as he maneuvered the pony expertly through the forest.  More than once she found herself being slapped by several low hanging branches. It made her quite angry but she refused to call out to her lover to slow down.

            Once they were within thirty yards of the old highway, Maverick brought his mount to a stop and jumped from the saddle. Gitana pulled her own pony up to a stop and watched him.  He turned and put a finger to his lips indicating her to be quite. He pulled out his SPAS 15 and half crouched, half jogged up to the partially grown over ditch. The sound of the approaching engines grew louder.

            He felt Gitana’s presence and glowered at her, having wanted her to stay with the ponies but at the same time realized that she could be invaluable in case a firefight did break out.  He noticed that she was wearing her body armor.  That pleased him.

            They waited in silence as the sounds of the approaching wags got louder.  He kept low and was able to see the highway for several miles. Two rebuilt wags were approaching at a slow but steady pace. They were the standard trading wags that most people used.  The bodies were

rebuilt so many times over the decades that it was impossible to tell what the original model used to be.  Steel plates had been welded over the front and sides, with a heavy grill settled before the radiator.  Metal mesh covered the windows but there were firing ports cut into them.  He could see a pane of glass just behind it. Like the mesh, the glass had holes cut into it to allow the occupants freedom to fire out of the protection of the wag. He could make out four men in each one.

            One of the occupants leaned out the window and spit. He looked around and let the breeze blow his long filthy hair. 

            It dawned on him that he recognized the man from the Trading post. “I think we got trouble Gitana.”

            She gripped the butt of her gold plated .45 so hard that her knuckles were white from the strain. “Great, we never can seem to get a break can we?”

            Maverick let his head touch the dirt and he sighed.  “That’s the way it is in the Deathlands.  We’ll never be able to stop running or fighting. I got too much a reputation because of my time riding with Trader.”

            “What does….” A sudden scream of fear shattered her train of though. Moving as one both Deathlands natives turned towards the sound.  They could see the little ghoul child that they had seen earlier. It was standing in the middle of the road, cowering in fear at the oncoming rebuilt wags.

            The lead wag slowed down and they could see one of the men lean out holding a rifle.  There was a crack from the bushes near the young mutant and the sound of a round rocketing off into the early afternoon sky.  The man cursed and slid back into the wag.  Both vehicles had come to a complete stop.

            “Brett, the baby.”  She grabbed his arm as she spoke. “We’ve got to do something.”

            For a second the survivalist hesitated.  The old Maverick came back to the surface.  He just turned to crawl away.  Let the mutie buy the farm, none of his concern. But the grip on his arm forced him to think about the unborn child that his lover was carrying. “Fireblast!”  He snarled savagely.  He leaped up just as the mutant child’s father continued to fire at the wag.

            “Distract them.”  He ordered and sprinted to the ponies.

            Gitana opened fire with the .45’s.  The wag was almost at the extreme range of the handgun but she had to do something. The rounds smashed into the grill and armored window but failed to do any significant damage.

            The occupants of the two wags didn’t risk themselves, instead they poked the barrels of their rifles and handguns through ports cut in the armor and returned fire.  The range, combined with the narrow space for firing made the fire ineffectual at best.

            The ghoul’s mother tried to run into the road but one of the slavers got off a lucky shot and she was hit in the side and sent sprawling back from the round. The baby screamed shrilly as it’s mother collapsed in a heap.

            Maverick vaulted into the saddle and spurred the pony into lighting quick motion.  As he raced towards the screaming mutant child the lead wag revved its engine and in a cloud of burned rubber.  It was clear that the driver had every intention of turning the youngster into road kill.

            Having emptied the magazines of both weapons Gitana holstered them and pulled her carbine off her shoulder.  Firing the weapon while she was lying on her stomach was too difficult so she knelt and carefully took aim at the wag. She thumbed the select off safety to single shot and squeezed off a single shot. It smashed through the protective metal screen that covered the windshield and starred the glass behind it. The wag swerved slightly but almost instantly was right back on course.

            The brown pony raced towards the mutant as Maverick leaned over the side and reached out with his hand, holding on tightly to the reigns and straining to reach the baby before the wag did.  Several rounds sung their song of death as they passed him, but fortunately the combination of the cramped firing quarters, the fire from his lover and the male mutant in the bush added up to the slavers missing him completely.

            He strained even harder to reach the child, the wag only a dozen yards from it as well.

End of Part 1.