By Chris Van Deelen
Maverick opens his eyes, blinking in the pre-dawn darkness. As if sensing his waking, Gitana snuggles in closer, mumbling happily in her state of semi sleep. He glances at his wrist chron. Its just about four in the morning. His internal clock woke him up, right on time.
As quietly as possible, he slips out of the sleeping bag. Gently, he takes Gitanas small arm and places it under the covers, then bends over to kiss the woman on the lips, savoring the musky flavor of her tanned flesh. The memories of their recent love making come into his thoughts, as strong and as real as they were earlier that night, he smiles, wishing that he had the time to do it all over again, but duty calls.
He grabs slips into his jacket, before picking up the SPAS 15, which he then slings over his shoulder. The past week hes been taking usually the first guard shifts, as they would be easiest on his healing body. But, like most people in the Deathlands, he heals fast. The Deathlands is not a place for the weak, as the oldest rule of nature rules supreme. Survival of the fittest.
Certain portions of his body are still tender, and there is just a hint of a bruise under his eye, but for the most part the marks and scars he received at the hands of Jim Greaves and his band of slavers have healed and disappeared.
The big man tip toes through the old picnic shelter, past the gently snoring body of someone who could very well turn out to be a good, close friend. Joe Benett. The other man, though slightly shorter is nearly as powerfully built as Maverick himself. Hes a quite man, quick to lend a hand, and even quicker to smile. Trader always said never trust a man who smiles a bunch. But, there is something about the other man that puts Maverick at ease. Again, its just simple instinct, as it was with the mutant woman Gedoena.
He slips on a pair of thin gloves, as the pre dawn air is still quite chilly. Cold fingers make squeezing a trigger triple difficult. That extra second could very well mean the difference between walking away the winner, or meeting the dark harvester if you come in second.
A small hop takes him over the short wall. Somewhere ahead in the gloom of the night forest Ged waits for him. Her shift is over, and its time for her to get some rest. She is perfect for this particular shift as her night vision rivals that of the great cats. He cant see her, but he knows that she is probably walking towards him right at this moment.
Sure enough, the young mutant woman steps out of the shadow and steps up to the big man. She has his MP5 slung over her shoulder, and a scarf wrapped around her face to ward off the night chill.
"Morning Ged. Everything quite?"
She smiles, her eyes seeming to glow in the dark. "Hi Brett. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the usual night creatures. Sleep well?"
"Triple good." Yeah, slept like a baby after getting my rocks off he thinks, but doesnt add. She may be twenty years old, but shes still just a little girl deep down inside.
Ged wraps her arms around Maverick, hugging him tight. "Can we talk?"
"Sure thing Ged. Whats on yer mind?" Hugging her back, he whispers. Weeks ago, he was quite wary of the young woman, even though he was sure that he could trust her. But, now, things have changed. He cares for the young woman very much, but not the way hed care for a lover, more like the little sister he never had. She is such a strange mix of intelligence and child like innocence. Of course, she is one of the deadliest mutants hes ever encountered, and that makes her triple dangerous.
Taking his hand in hers, she walks with him into the forest. "What do you think about our two new friends?"
He laughs lightly. "There both ace on the line! Joe is a good fighter, and has plenty of skills that will prove to be triple useful. The big bastard is pretty funny also. Hell, some of the stories hes told me about his life."
She nods her head. "I like him too. He treats me like a norm, not like a mutie. Hes even taught me a few card games."
"I bet hes a card shark."
"He lets me win."
Maverick laughs out loud. "Id seriously doubt that. Your one of the smartest people Ive ever known."
"No, not that at all. I am sure that he lets me win on purpose. I cant be that good, after all, I just learned how to play the games, and besides, most of the time the games rely on simple luck. No one can have that much bad luck, or in my case, that much good luck"
They walk together in comfortable silence. Maverick constantly changes direction, never following the exact same path. One of the things Trader taught him was never to follow the same patrol pattern. If you keep things at total random, then a potential enemy will have a hell of a lot harder time being in the right place at the right time. Always do the unexpected he used to say.
"What about Gitana?" In a very quite voice she asks the big man.
"What about her?" He has a feeling where this might be leading, but would rather her come out and say what she is thinking.
"Do you like her?" She stops, forcing him to stop as well, since she is still holding his hand.
Maverick smiles, nearly chuckling out loud. He was right. "Yeah, I guess I do."
"Oh. I see." She coughs lightly, coming along when he continues on his patrol. "Do you love her?"
Maverick stops dead in his tracks, laughing. "Love her?" Even in the darkness he can see the hurt look on the young mutants face. "Oh man, Ged. I like her, but I dont love her. Though I honestly think that I could come to love her, eventually. Why do you ask?"
"Because I dont want you to start ignoring me, or leave me. You promised to help get me home to my family." Unshed tears brim in her purple eyes.
He wraps his arms around her and pulls her in close, embracing the young woman. "Dont be such a stupe Ged. I never, ever break a promise once I make it. And, Ill never ignore you. I dont treat my friends, or people that I care for like that." He kisses her gently on the forehead.
"I promise. I swear."
"Hope to die?"
Hope to die? What the dark night brought that on? Well he figures, better go along with it. "Sure Ged. Hope to die."
"Thanks Brett. It really means a lot to me." She buries her face in his chest and they stand, embracing each other for several minutes.
Maverick finally breaks the embrace and steps away from his mutie friend. "So, what about you? What do you think of her?"
"I like her as well. Just like Joe, Gitana is really nice to me. She has never called me a mutie or anything like that since we met. But she always calls me Chica. Do you know what that means?"
He chuckles. He wondered that himself and actually asked the woman. "Its a term of endearment, what ever that means. I guess it means child in Spanish."
"Chica." She smiles. "I kind of like that. Its a nice word." She yawns, revealing her sharp canines. "Shes awfully pretty, isnt she?"
No, shes not pretty. Shes fucking beautiful. "Yeah, she is. Id be a stupe to say otherwise."
"I wish I looked like her." She says wistfully.
He sighs heavily. Man, what is up with the poor kid? She must be feeling triple insecure. I wonder why? "Ged, youre a double lovely young woman! What the hell would make you think otherwise?" He actually means what he says. Despite her being a mutant. If she wasnt so fireblasted young in reality, hed bed her. No questions asked. Could it because she may have seen them making love?
"Your just saying that."
"Aw, Christ on a crutch. Fireblast girl, you know that I never say what I dont mean. Ever!"
She turns from him, staring into the night sky. Even now the blackness is starting to show signs of the dawn. "I know Brett." She yawns again, stretching her long limbs. "I am so tired!"
"Go on girl. Head back to the camp and get some sleep." He walks up to her, placing his hand on her shoulder. "Want me to walk you back?"
She squeezes his hand. "Id like that Brett." She places her arm around his waist, leaning into him as they walk. Maverick smiles down at her, then drapes his arm over her shoulder. Its almost alien to him, touching a female like this without having other intentions deep down. The thoughts keep asserting themselves in the foremost part of his mind. Shes like the little sister that I never had. A young woman that needs me to get her home, to protect her and watch over her until she can find her family, or a mate of her own to take over that.
The thought hits him like a bucket of ice water. Gedoena taking a mate. Why does that bother me? Jealousy? Couldnt be, not with the woman I met. So, what is it then? One thing is for certain, anyone hurts the little lady, and Ill chill them so fast theyll be in hell three minutes before they are even dead! He actually stops, getting a slightly surprised look from Ged.
"What is it Brett?"
"Hmm? Oh, nothing. I was just thinking, thats all" They pick up the pace as he laughs mentally. Dark night! Im thinking like I was her father! I wonder how Ill react the first time she shows interest in another man? Will he be what I consider good enough?
Only a few moments pass before they spot the small clearing. The fire is still burning brightly and he can make out the silhouette of Joe moving about, probably settling down after having stocked the blaze.
"Good night Ged. Get some sleep. We have to leave just after sunset. I know that fuel is getting triple low, so we have to see if we can find a ville nearby where we can either trade, or steal more. Id sure as hell hate to have to abandon the wag, considering how far it got us."
"Good night Brett. I love you!" She says, turning away and entering the clearing.
Sighing, he turns around himself and returns to the woods and his patrol. He smiles and shakes his head, chuckling lightly. She is so childlike at times, it never ceases to amaze him. He knows what she meant. Not as in a lover, but love as in sisterly love. No denying the fact. The little mutant has won a place in his heart.
The next hour passes peacefully, Maverick constantly moving from one location to another. He is sure that they are safe and alone, but doesnt want to risk it. After all, the mutie and her cougar could still be around, and hes quite angry at the fact that she and her overstuffed kitty stole that deer meat the day before. "If I ever get my hands on her " He growls, allowing the sentence to trail off, unfinished.
By now the night has been replaced with the first rays of the dawn. To the East, the sky is totally clear, a glorious reddish tinge stretching across the entire horizon. He finds himself staring at the sunrise, his thoughts lost in the beauty of nature. Funny, he thinks. Even after what the white-coats and politicos did to the world nearly a century ago, they could never erase the natural wonder of a simple sunrise.
Just to his left, out of the corner of his eye he catches movement. Hes been standing totally still without moving a muscle for nearly ten minutes. A huge white tail buck is standing so close to him, he could quite literally reach out and touch it on the nose. The animal, just as he was, seems to be enthralled with the sunrise. The buck is a handsome specimen, sporting a ten point rack.
For a moment he actually considers un-slinging the SPAS 15 and chilling the magnificent buck, but he cant bring himself to doing it. There are plenty of deer in the woods, and besides, even though he wont admit it to anyone, he actually kind of likes the self heats!
With infinite slowness he raises his hand and touches the buck on the neck. The buck jumps nearly two meters straight in the air, all four legs already in full motion before it touches down. He scared the buck so bad it actually leaves a pile of droppings behind it. Three seconds later its long gone.
His light laughter fades as he walks back towards the camp and his friends. The smell of coffee sub is overlaid by the odor of self heats. He can hear muted conversation as he makes his way through the thin trees. His three friends, Joe, Gitana and Ged are all sitting around the fire, chatting merrily away. Gitana is the first to spot the approaching man.
She walks over to him, holding a cup in one hand, a self heat in the other. "Morning Maverick." She cheerfully calls out to him.
"Morning." He takes the offered cup and food. The lithe woman stands on her tip toes to kiss him full on the lips, her tongue slipping from between her supple lips, teasing slightly him slightly.
He hesitates for only a fraction of a second before returning her kiss. Even though he and the young woman have been intimate, its still going to take him some time to get used to her. Hes been alone his entire life. The only time hes been with a woman was the gaudy whores in the frontier villes, or some of the more aggressive female members of Traders convoy.
"Morning Gitana. Sleep well?"
She laughs lightly, then pulls him down so that his ear is next to her mouth. "The way you rode me last night, of course! That was triple nice Maverick."
To his surprise, he begins to blush. He blinks, turning away from her. "It was good for me also!"
He takes the coffee and food. Sitting down before the fire, he digs into the food, barely even taking time to breath. He looks up, noticing the others are staring at him. "What?" He mumbles between bites. "I got a third eye growing out of my forehead or something?" The small group burst out laughing.
Joe wipes a tear from his eye. "Nothing like that Maverick. We were just wondering what your plans are. Were triple low on fuel." He takes a sip of the coffee, grimacing slightly. "This shit never gets any better, does it? Anyhow, we got to do something, either trade or steal some gas from a local ville. Unless, of course, you want to walk the rest of the way to California."
Maverick gets up and walks over to the wag. He digs through the front until he finds several maps. He rummages through the small pile until he finds the one he is looking for. Map in hand, he returns to the group. Taking his place with the others, he unfolds the map and spreads it out before the rest.
"Ok, as far as I can tell, were located here." He points at a small location on the map. "Ive traveled through this state several times in the past with Trader. I know where a few frontier villes are located, but I triple doubt that any of them will have much, gas, if any."
"How do these villes react to outlanders?" Gitana asks, sliding closer to the scarred man.
Maverick doesnt notice the movement, hes so intent on studying the predark map. "Like your typical frontier ville. Cold and slightly hostile, until theyre sure about your intentions." He glances up, looking across at Ged for a second. "Were going to have to keep you in hiding Ged. They see you, the blasters will come out and theyll start firing before we can explain our intentions." He knows his words hurt Ged, but he cant hide the truth from her. Besides, she knows very well who and what she is, and how norms, for the most part, react around mutants like her.
Joe pours the rest of his coffee sub into the fire, partially dousing the blaze, and filling the air above it will rich steam. "What do we have to trade for the fuel?"
Maverick looks over at the barrel chested man, mentally cursing himself for not having thought of that before. "Fireblast. Damned good question. Guess we dont have all that much, do we?" His gaze wanders over the others. "Anyone got any suggestions?"
"Well, we could always trade off the AR 15s we took from the slavers. We have several magazines worth of ammo for them as well." Gitana suggests, hefting one of the blasters to emphasis her point.
Maverick shakes his head hard. "No. We keep all the blasters we have. We dont give them up for nothing." He sighs heavily. "Looks like were just going to have to recce the ville, then, if they have any fuel, sneak in and lift it."
"You dont much like that idea, do you Amigo?" Gitana mentions, seeing the grimace on his face when he mentions stealing the fuel.
"Sure as shit dont."
"Anyone have any alternate suggestions then?" Asks Joe.
Ged raises her talons, trying to get Mavericks attention. "Umm, Brett?"
He pulls his gaze away from the map. "What?"
The young mutant refuses to meet his eyes. "I think I know a way for us to get some fuel for the car."
He leans nearer to his young friend, looking intently and with great interest. "What do you know?"
She shifts her position, so as to be able to look at the map. She points to a large park. "There is a redoubt located here. Were not too far from it, and I figure that we could either drive to it, or walk to it, then get the gas we need."
The group stare at her without speaking for a moment. Maverick breaks the silence. "How the hell do you know about this?" His voice is low.
"I, I, uh " She stammers, sounding fearful. She knows that she should have said something to Maverick a lot earlier, but with all the excitement of the past few days, she simply forgot about it. She knows that he is going to be mad at her, and that is the last thing she wants him to be. "I memorized the location of this redoubt, plus all the codes to enter it, as well as the code for California. My friend, Matt had me do it before he put me into Cryo suspension." The words almost form a single, long word, shes is such a hurry to get them out.
The scarred survivalist grinds the heels of his hands into his eyes, while shaking his head. He feels more than a little angry about the revelation, but at the same time, doesnt blame the girl for forgetting. He looks at her. The look of regret on her face is enough to make him nearly laugh out loud, its so pathetic. Instead, he coughs and clears his throat to cover it.
"Chica, thats great!" Gitana quickly interjects, before Maverick can say anything. "If you know the codes, it wont be difficult to get into the base." She pauses, thinking to herself. "Are you sure that you remember the codes? After all, its been a very long time since you learned them, and your still very young."
Ged smiles radiently. "Oh, I remember everything! I have what is know as Eidetic memory, or photographic memory. I can tell you the conversation we had, word for word, when we first met."
Maverick stands, slapping his hands against his thighs. "Well, that settles it. Well drive the wag as close as we can to this redoubt, then take the jerry cans and make the rest of the way on foot. I just hope that the redoubt has something worth while in it."
"Yeah, like some self heats, or mebbe some actual coffee." Comments Joe.
"I would like to find some books, or some CDs to listen to." Ged says as she tosses her pack into the trunk of the car.
"I really would love a shower, with hot water, soap, shampoo, and a nice bed. Been sleeping on the hard ground too much." Adds Gitana to the conversation as she uncoils herself from the ground and dumps the rest of the coffee on the fire. "Hey, Maverick."
"You could use a shave Amigo. My thighs are sore from last night."
Joe bursts out laughing at that comment, and when he sees the confused look on Geds face, he laughs even harder. He wipes the tears from his eyes as he tosses dirt onto the breakfast fire, extinguishing it.
Maverick cant help but smile, despite the fact that the comment made him turn forty shades of red. "Ok, Gitana, Ill see if they have any disposable razors there. If not, Ill figure out something." He considers telling her she should shave as well, because hes going to have to go to the dentist to get a hair cut after last night, but figures that he can use that line another time. After all, as Trader drilled into him and the others of the convoy, an attack is most effective when the enemy isnt expecting it. That phrase, re-worded, can fit perfectly with this situation.
They spend a few minutes packing their belongings into the old wag and cleaning up the camp site before finally leaving.
* * *
By eleven in the morning the old wag sputters and coughs to a halt, its gas tank as dry as the Mojave desert. "well, thats it. Well have to make the rest of the way on foot." Says Joe as he opens the driver door and steps out.
The beautiful clear morning looks as if its going to change very soon, as to the northwest, they can see the dark purplish black thunderheads rolling towards them. Jagged bolts of yellow and blue lightning are visible, erupting every few minutes.
"Looks triple bad." Comments Maverick, his eyes locked on the spectacle of nature. He steps out of the wag for a better look. "Ive seen chem. storms like that before. Its not the worst Ive seen, but this one sure isnt gonna be a walk in the park.
The two women step out of the wag, bringing there meager belongings and weapons with them. Gitana stops and stares at the approaching chem. storm. "I remember a acid storm I was nearly caught in down on the Tex Mex. border with my family. It was one of the most amazing sights Ive ever witnesses. Rad fire, must be nearly ten years ago, as I was just a chica myself."
"What happened?" Joe asks, interested in hearing the story.
"Well," She says, shouldering the AR 15 carbine. "My family and I were heading towards the gulf coast. We were going to stop in one of the villes and do a little trading, as well as fishing. Plus there was the added bonus of visiting some old Amigos wed not seen in a long time.
In her minds eye she can see the scene as if it happened only yesterday. The storm clouds rolling in off the coast, closing by the second on the small ville. The people scrambling to get under shelter as quick as they can, knowing what the rains will bring. Her adoptive family and the wag were right on the outskirts as the first drops of acid laced rain began to fall. She describes the scene to the three companions sitting around her.
"The drops must have been the size of a predark quarter, but thankfully they were few and far between at first. We had just gotten out of the wag when and had unhitched all the horses except for one, which we still had to get under cover. A single drop hit the horse, right on the tip of it's nose. The acid went to work triple fast and the pain was too much for the poor beast to take. It took off, running in blind fear and pain. Right into the heart of the storm." The small woman shudders. "I'll never forget the sound of it's scream as the rain stripped the flesh right off the beast in a matter of only a couple of minutes. It almost seemed to melt right before our eyes.
Holding up a hand, Joe interrupts her narration. "I thought that storms like that were a think of the past. I haven't heard about a acid storm like that since my grandfathers days."
"Obviously you haven't been around the gulf coast much then." Maverick comments. "When I was travelling with Trader, we heard about rain like that occurring once every few years. Of course, not like during the dark years after the war, but they still happen often enough." He pulls out the map and looks it over. "There's a small ville, not too far from here. I have no idea if anyone's living there, but at least we should be able to use it for shelter to wait out the storm."
"What about the wag?"
Maverick slaps his forehead at Ged's question. "Stupe! Yeah, ace on the line Ged." He steps up to the wag and motions for the others to follow. "Let's push it into the tree's. That way we can keep it out of sight until we can get some fuel for it."
With his three companions helping, it is a simple matter of pushing the empty wag into the tree's. The toss several large branches over it, helping conceal it somewhat from casual observation. The job finished, the small band turn to the north, and hopefully to shelter.
Moving at a forced march speed, the four companions cover the short two miles to the ville. Sure enough, it's still there, and it is inhabited, as they can see smoke coming from several chimneys. Like the vast majority of predark towns, few buildings are still standing in this one. The sign showing Its name and population is so corroded as to be illegible.
"Ok people, we'll handle this like I was taught. Keep your hands on your blasters. Also, keep your eyes and ears open, and stay on triple red." Letting his SPAS 15 slip off his shoulder, he hefts it, but keeps the barrel pointed at the ground. He wants to be ready for anything, but doesn't want to start a firefight by appearing hostile.
He takes point then turns around. "Joe, take rear guard. Ged I want you and Gitana between us. Keep at least three yards away from each other. We'll use this skirmish line from now on." Without bothering to make sure they are following his orders, he takes off, still keeping the forced march pace.
The only buildings that seem to have been maintained are a handful on either side of the villes main street. Maverick smiles to himself as they approach the first of the inhabited buildings. Something's never change. Every small ville seems to have exactly the same things. A small eatery, a gaudy, stable, and a general store. More often than not the gaudy doubles as a hotel. A few of the other buildings are homes, as he can see faces peering from behind closed curtains.
"Maverick, can we stop for a meal?" Ged asks, rubbing her flat belly.
Just like a little kid. Sees a eatery, has to stop, he thinks, keeping his face neutral despite the fact that he wants to laugh. "Sure Ged. Might as well take a break and wait out the storm." He looks into the slate gray sky as a single drop of rain hit's him on the top of the head. "And not a moment too soon."
Crossing the street, they enter the small eatery. It looks like it's been a restaurant since before the skydark, and is quite clean. No dirt on the floor, the tables are old and battered, but look as if you could eat right off the top without having to use a plate. There are several booths lined up along one wall, the upholstery long since replaced with simple cloth covered foam cushions. It's nearly twelve noon and there are only a handful of people inside. One is dressed in poorly cured furs and has a battered Winchester rifle resting beside the table.
Another one of the tables has three men sitting around it. They look up as the group enters, noting the mutant and the blasters. One, a young man in his late teens looks as if he's about to say something when another man, who looks close enough to be either his elder brother, or possibly father, glares at him, cutting off the comment before it can be uttered.
A middle-aged man wearing a spotless apron steps out from the kitchen. He's about to greet them when he notices the mutant. His face becomes as hard as marble. "We don't serve muties here outlander. You and your mutie loving friends can just up and leave."
The coldness in the man's voice stops Ged dead in her tracks, the tears already beginning to accumulate, unshed at the corner of her purple eyes.
"Why you fucking asshole!" Screams Maverick as he dashes over to the owner, wrapping his steely fingers around his throat and actually lifting the smaller man several inches off the floor.
The three men sitting around the table go to stand, two reaching for blasters holstered at their hips. Both Gitana and Joe beat them to the draw. Literally, as their weapons are out and aimed at the trio. "Keep your hands where we can see them." Says Joe in a conversational tone. "We don't want trouble, and we don't want any chilling. All we want is a nice meal and a place to wait out the chem storm."
The three men reluctantly raise their hands and place them on the table.
"Atta boys!" Breaths Joe, smiling at them.
Still holding the owner in the air, Maverick smiles in grim satisfaction as the owner struggles, clawing at his arm. "Look, we don't want any trouble. Just like my friend said. All we want is a meal, something to drink, and a dry place to wait out the storm." He lowers the man, relaxing his grip so he can breath again. "It'd be a triple shame to mess up such a pretty place.
The owner slumps to his knees, rubbing his bruised throat. He glowers at the scarred man. "I told you." He coughs his voice raspy. "We don't serve muties here."
Maverick sits down. "You do now. And I don't want to hear you using that term again. Here me?"
The owner nods his head once, struggling to his feet. He mumbles something under his breath, but it's too low for Maverick to catch. Ged glares at the man for a second, the tears still coursing down her cheeks, but doesn't say a thing. Maverick decides to let it be.
Looking over the menu tacked to the wall, they quickly choose their meals. Maverick orders a buffalo stew, garnished with fresh vegetables and a mug of local beer. Gitana opts for the fresh Trout and water. Taking a few minutes, Joe finally orders a venison steak, well done. Unlike the others, he settles for water. The owner writes down the orders quickly, not meeting any of there eyes.
"Ged, what are you going to have?" Says Gitana as she leans back in her chair, keeping the AR 15 in her arms, watching the other three diners.
Ever since sitting down, Ged hasnt made a sound, except for the occasional sniffle. "Im not hungry." The young woman mumbles, unable to control the trembling in her voice.
Standing up, Maverick walks over to the kitchen. He has slung his SPAS 15, but keeps his right hand on the butt of his Desert Eagle. The door opens easily on well oiled hinges and he steps into the room. The owner is throwing the meat and fish on the stove, and a middle aged woman is busy cutting vegetables. They both look up when he enters.
"Look, we got off on the wrong foot earlier, but I meant what I said. All we want is a meal, and to wait out the chem storm."
The man looks away, concentrating on the cooking. "What are you doing back here?"
"Simple. Ive come to pay the bill, and to make sure that you prepare the food right." Maverick answers, as he leans up against the wall. "So, whatre your names?"
"Miles Gibbs. Thats my wife, Sharon."
Digging deep into his pocket, he pulls out a fist full of jack and drops it on the counter. The man eyes it, barely containing his surprise. Maverick easily dropped enough jack to feed the group for a week, three meals a day. He grabs it and stuffs it down the front of his smock, before Maverick can change his mind.
The big warrior smiles, stretching the scar at the corner of his mouth. "Like I said Gibbs, I dont want any trouble."
"Ok outlander, no trouble." Despite the near chilling at the survivalists hands, the owner has warmed up considerably. Jack speaks volumes.
Satisfied, Maverick turns and walks back into the dining room. The big man takes his seat with the others. Ged is still downtrodden, despite the fact that Gitana and Joe are trying to cheer her up. The other three men are still seated at their table, quietly eating and talking amongst themselves, never taking their eyes off the others.
"Food will be ready in a while. I made triple sure that theyre not going to try something stupe." Maverick looks out the window, watching the rain come down in buckets. He knows if they were caught out in it, they would have been drenched to the bone. He is momentarily blinded by a sudden bolt of lightning flashing across the dark heavens. A yelp of fright pulls him away from the view. He turns, knowing who it was. Sure enough, poor young Ged is positively quaking in fear. Gitana is about to stand and go to her when Maverick shakes his head no. Instead, he stands up and walks over to her.
"Shh Ged, its only lightning. Nothing to be afraid of. " He whispers to her, wrapping his arm around her small shoulders.
The young mutant snuggles in close, comforted by his warmth and familiarity. "Sorry Brett, I cant help it. Mommy always used to hold me when the storms came, kept the fear away."
Gitana laughs lightly, earning a dirty look from Maverick. "Chica, you dont have anything to fear, not when were with you. Besides, the lightning cant hurt you inside the building.
"I wouldnt be too sure about that."
"Joe, what the hell are you talking about?" Growls Maverick, getting madder by the minute. "Lay off the horror stories, the poor girl is scared enough as it is.
The older man holds his hands out in front of him. "Whoa there big guy. Didnt mean anything, just some harmless little fun."
Ged pulls herself out of his grip. "Its ok Brett, Im better now." Shes still trembling slightly, but not as bad as a few minutes before. She looks up as the owner enters, bringing everyones drink.
The others take the beer, nodding their thanks. "The food will be ready in a little while." He calls over his shoulder, re-entering the kitchen. True to his word, he reappears about fifteen mintues later, his arms laden with the groups meals. At the same time, the three men leave a handful of jack on their table and exit without a backwards glance.
Taking his plate, Maverick divides his meal into two equal portions, and hands half to Ged. "Eat up girl. Youre a growing girl and need your food."
He doesnt notice the knowing look pass between Gitana and Joe. They both agreed long ago that hes become a father figure to the young woman. This is one of the times that prove that theory.
They finish their meal in relative quite, only making the occasion comment about the food, which, much to everyones except Mavericks surprise, is quite excellent. A lot better than the self heats that theyve been subsisting on ever since they left the slavers. The only difference has been the occasional deer or rabbit they shot to add a little variety to their diet. But, from the way they are eating, it becomes obvious that they all silently agree that its nice to eat some good home cooked food once in a while.
The owner comes in and silently takes their plates and glasses, disappearing back into the kitchen. He returns a minute later with four full mugs, two beer, a milk, and one water. "Here, these are on the house." He looks down at the mutant. "Sorry about the way I reacted when I saw you the first time. As you probably can figure, mutants arent exactly welcome in small villes like this."
Ged positively beams at his apology. "Thank you. It means a lot to me that you would say that."
He eyes Maverick for a moment before answering. "Ive been shown my mistake." He stands back, crossing his arms. "So, how was the meal?"
"Triple good Gibbs. Some of the best grub Ive eaten in a long, long time." Maverick answers, rubbing his flat stomach. "You and your wife sure cook up a storm!" Speaking of which, he looks out the window, seeing that the chem storm has all but passed on. Its still dark, but at least the rain has stopped.
"Much obliged outlander." He leans against the wall. "So, where you outlanders heading?"
Mavericks eyes narrow slightly. "I think that kind of falls into the realm of our business Gibbs."
The owner puts his hands up in front of him as he backs away. "Sorry outlander, just curious, thats all."
Maverick nods, and take a long pull at his drink. "Were just passing through, trying to find some gas, either to trade or buy." He, of course, doesnt add the third option, which would be to steal it, but that idea doesnt appeal to the survivalist one iota.
Gibbs looks thoughtful, then snaps his fingers, smiling. "I think I might be able to help you. Theres a old gas station, about a mile north of here. An old man, his wife, and their three grown kids have set up shop there. Always have a large supply of gas on hand. Dont know where he gets it, but rumor has it he has a pipeline set up with a oil baron in old Canada. Never seems to run out of fuel."
Maverick touches the tip of his cap. "Much obliged Gibbs." He notices the older man eyeing the cap, and looks as if hes about to say something, but cuts it off before it can leave his mouth. "Want to add something to what you just told us?" He says, keeping his voice calm and friendly.
The other man swallows, looking nervous. "Nothing. I was just going to ask you if you needed some help getting your wag towed to the gas store, or if you had a way to get the fuel back to it."
All of them can tell that the owner is lying, that he hadnt planned to ask what he did. Maverick is about to push it when Gitana reaches over and squeezes his thigh gently. He steals a glance, seeing her shake her head slightly.
"Thats a great offer, but I think well just head out on our own. The station should have something to carry the fuel in, so well work it out with them."
The owner picks up the empty glasses and head back to the kitchen. "Ill bring you refills." He call over his shoulder, using his foot to push open the doorway.
The four companions, alone, lean towards the center of the table. Maverick, using a low, hushed voice addresses the group. "You see the way he looked at my cap? He recognized the emblem."
Joe nods. "Hell, I thought he was going to come right out and ask you where you got it."
Gitana takes Mavericks hand in hers. "I didnt want you to press the issue with the man, because things are still double red right now. Were getting along fine, but it wont take much for someone to lose their temper and blood gets spilt. No one likes to be man handled the way he was."
"Better Maverick do it than me." Mutters Ged. "I probably would have killed him."
Maverick nods in agreement with her statement. "True enough girl. You dont know your own strength sometimes."
"We going to ask him about how he recognizes the symbol?" Joe says, wiping his mouth clean with a napkin.
Maverick considers the question for a few moments, trying to decide. If he asks, they might discover that the locals know about the redoubt and have already stripped it clean. But, from what he has seen none seem to be carrying any sort of high tech blasters or using any military issue equipment. So, how about the tables being turned? What if the locals want to know where they got the symbol? What if the locals happen to worship the three headed dog symbol? Hey, stranger things have happened, he thinks. He remembers that triple crazy group they encountered in Georgia about three years ago, the ones who worshipped the golden banana. Talk about your inbred nutballs.
He comes to his decision. "Well let it rest. No point in rocking the boat."
The others accept his decision without argument. And a good thing to, as the door opens once again and Gibbs returns, carrying two more full mugs of beer. "Enjoy outlanders." He says, as he clears away the empty plates and takes a moment to wipe the table top clean.
"You said that the gas shop was to the north?" Gitana asks, giving him a dazzling smile.
"Yes maam. About a mile north, down in the valley." He answers her, taking the empty plates to the kitchen and disappearing.
Maverick picks up his full mug and holds it in front of him, staring into the amber liquid as he thinks. "Ged, you said you know the exact location of the redoubt, right?"
The young mutant nods her head. "Yes, its about five miles north of here."
"It only makes sense to me that they must know something about the base then. After all, you saw the way he reacted when he noticed the emblem on my cap. So, what do you think is going to happen?"
Joe shrugs his shoulders. "Got me. I havent got a clue. Doubt anything, as we made it clear to the locals that were not to be fucked with."
The others nod their heads in agreement.
"Besides, looks like the four of us nearly outnumber the locals, and we sure do have a hell of a lot more blaster power than they do." Says Maverick. Suddenly, he snaps his fingers. "Rad blasted. That reminds me. Everyone check your ammo situation. Make triple sure youve got a full combat load, just in case we have to shoot our way out of town."
The four companions quickly un-holster their various weapons and do a quick inspection. Every weapon is fully loaded, and they each have at least three spare magazines, which are also loaded. In a firefight, an empty weapon can kill you. One of the many rules Trader drilled into Maverick. Then again, hes rarely been involved in a fight where hes burned through all his magazines.
Re-holstering his IMI Desert Eagle, Maverick stands up, stretching. "Ok, five miles off from here. Figure barring any unforeseen difficulties, we should be there in about an hour and a half, mebbe two hours. Lets hit the road.:
Maverick takes the lead, the two females stepping in behind him, Joe finally taking up the rear position. Outside, the afternoon sun is drying up the rainwater. It still doesnt cease to amaze him how the weather in the Deathlands can go from one extreme to another, in a matter of minutes. Not a cloud can be seen in the clear blue sky.
The street is deserted, not a soul can be seen anywhere. His hand automatically goes to the butt of his blaster, ready to draw and fire at the first sign of hostile. He may have been able to make peace with the diner owner, but it doesnt mean that the others might not try to do something. Small frontier villes like this tend to turn triple ugly real fast. He takes a deep breath. On the up side, if they were going to try something, they would have done it by now.
In a matter of a few moments, they reach the end of the small ville. Maverick steals a glance over his shoulder, seeing no sign of pursuit. The forest surrounding the group is thinning out noticeably. Its strange. According to maps hes seen of the state, before the skydark, this section of the state was all barren farmland. Few trees. But the forests seem to have popped up almost overnight. Well, its just like other parts of the Deathlands. The last great war re-arranged the landscape, so now people born before the skydark wouldnt recognize it.
To the west were the missile farms. During his time with Trader, they skirted the radioactive deserts that the missile fields became, as they were hit hard, and hit often by soviet nukes and MIRVs. Nothing, not even microbes live in the wastes. Hes heard that they will be uninhabitable for tens of thousands of years.
Anyone with any sense rarely goes near the edge of these deserts, as the edge is home to some of the most hideously mutated life forms in all of the Deathlands. Not even the mutants living in the blasted ruins of the big cities like Chicago, New York and Houston have ever seen the likes. It was along the edges of these deserts that Maverick nearly lost his life.
The memories come flooding back in like a freezing flood. The convoy was forced to stop on the edge of the desert, when War Wag two suffered from a broken axle. Everyone was totally on edge, covering every direction, fingers white on the triggers. The mechanics got to work as quickly as they could, knowing that no one wanted to be around when night fell.
Maverick was one of the unlucky ones, placed on guard duty, staying only fifty meters away from the wags. He can still see the shifting sand only a few yards from his feet, then the sight of the hideous mutant erupting like some sort of demented flower from the ground.
The mutant must have stood then feet at its shoulder. The creature was vaguely humanoid in shape, but had four arms, and a half dozen residual arms growing out the side of its torso. The skin was covered by overlapping scales, almost like a snakes and were as black as pitch. Maverick had his Desert eagle out of its holster, squeezing the trigger as the creature struck. Its snake like head lashed out at blinding speed, the mouth latching onto his chest, right over the left pectoral muscle. The agony of the attack tore through his torso like white lightning, causing him to drop the blaster, unfired.
If it wasnt for the quick reaction of his fellow guards, one of them the Armourer, Dix, he would have died for sure. The creature, as strong and as powerful as it was, could not stand under the withering hail of fire from the guards. Its torso was hit no less than fifty times in less than ten seconds, cleanly blowing off four of its residual arms, and spilling its guts out over the sandy soil. The creature pulled its head away from his torso, taking the nipple, as well as a seven inch long strip of skin with it. Dix finished the mutant, pumping nearly a full magazine from his Uzi into its skull, blowing it apart like a ripe melon.
Maverick spent nearly a full week in the infirmary recovering from the unexpected attack, and has a hideous scar as a souvenir from the encounter. A shudder runs through his muscular torso, and it doesnt go un-noticed.
"What is it amigo? You look as if someone just walked over your grave." Gitana asks quietly, walking next to him.
"Triple bad memories."
She nods her head in understanding. "Would you like to talk about it?"
Maverick relates the story of what happened to him as they walk. She interrupts only a handful of times to clarify a point or ask a question. The others, Ged and Joe hand onto every work. Its very rare that Maverick ever talks about his past, especially about the scars that cover his body. None of them want to miss out on it, as he may never tell the story again.
Just as he finished the tale, a familiar sight greets them. Over the years each one of them have traveled the Deathlands, one of the most common sights are the innumerable ruined gas stations that line the highways and interstates of the country. Most are nothing more than shells, long since stripped of all useful items. Though, on the rare occasion, a station might actually be open, and selling the crudely processed gasoline that is the norm in the Deathlands. It appears as if the owner of the diner wasnt lying to him.
The old station still proudly displays the Esso logo, though the years of weather have faded the once brilliant colors until they are a barely noticeable. A thin column of smoke pours from the single smoke stack located at the rear of the building. An old man, who could be anything from forty to ninety is sitting on rickety rocking chair. Next to him is a battered twelve gauge shotgun, looking as if it would blow up in his face if he tried to fire it. The old man notices them as they approach and gives the group a friendly wave.
"Gday outlanders!" He calls as soon as they are within ear shot. "I be hearing your looking for some gas."
Maverick and Gitana exchange surprised glances. "How the hell did he hear about us so rad blasted fast?" Maverick mouths, keeping his face neutral. What hes never been able to figure out is how news can travel so fast. Not a soul passed them, and it was only a few minutes before they left that he mentioned their plans to the owner of the diner. He mentally shrugs his shoulders.
"Dont have much jack to offer." He blatantly lies to the old man. "I figure we have enough to get a few gallons off you, but thats it. Almost not worth our time."
The old man smiles, showing a mouth devoid of teeth. Be willing to trade you a full fifty gallon barrel, for one of them pretty blasters you got there."
He shakes his head adamantly. "No deal. We keep our blasters, but thanks for the offer none the less old timer." He notices movement at one of the windows, seeing a moon shaped face peering at them from a crack in the curtain.
"Triple red people." He growls softly. Then in a louder voice he calls out to the old man. "I reckon well just pass on through, continue northwards. Might be able to come across something worth trading for up there."
The old man scowls. "You wouldnt be thinking about hitting the old redoubt a few miles from here would you?"
Maverick is taken by total surprise, but answers quickly with no noticeable pause. Triple strange. First it was the owner noticing his cap, now the owner of the station brings up the redoubt. "Redoubt? What redoubt?"
The old man laughs. "Dont be trying to fool me son. Ive seen many a scav head to the redoubt over the years, but none have ever returned. I see by the cap your wearing that you must know about the redoubt."
"Kinda pointless to deny the fact any longer, isnt it Maverick?" Says Joe as he stops next to the scarred man.
"Yeah, it is." He sighs, taking his hand off the butt of his blaster. "Ok, what do you know about the redoubt?"
"Never been entered, not since the last days before the skydark according to my father. Something triple strange happened in it. Built only a few years before the final war, it was a state of the art military facility. Had the highest level sec that anyone around these parts ever saw. Fences fifteen feet high, electrified and topped with razor wire. Then just inside the fence, the ground was littered with all manner of anti pers mines and grens."
The big man shrugs. "So? By now the power sure to have failed, and Ive never seen a boobie that can still work fine after all these years being exposed to the elements."
Laughing, the old man slowly gets up out of the chair. He grabs the shotgun and uses it like a crutch. "Son, dont be a darned fool. The traps and sec are still fully functioning at the redoubt. The gate to the base is open, but still, no one who has entered has ever returned. I figure that the redoubt is still manned by gov soldiers. Only way to explain why the place is still functioning."
Oh shit. Could that be the case? Maverick wonders. From the redoubts hes seen with Trader, some of them could conceivably contain enough food and supplies to keep a small army fed and clothed for decades, possibly as long as its been. Odd, if a redoubt like this is such common knowledge to the locals, why didnt Trader ever catch wind of it?
He shrugs his shoulders. "Were gonna check it out none the less." He walks past the old man. He is certain that he spots a shadow creeping along the edge of the old garage. The shadow was armed. "Id recommend that you call off yer kid old timer. If not, theres gonna be blood soaking the ground."
The station owner looks at the scarred man. He can see it clearly that Maverick is not a man to be trifled with. "I reckon your right about that." He turns towards the station. "Greg, put the blaster away and get your ass back inside. We got nothing to fear from these outlanders. Theyre just passing through." He calls out in a surprisingly strong voice.
"Ok dad." Can be heard coming from the direction Maverick spotted the movement.
The old man turns back. "Whats your name son."
"Brett Maverick" He pauses, looking hard at the old man. "Why do you want to know?"
The old man reaches into a pocket and pulls out a lighter and a cigarette. He lights the smoke and takes a deep drag before answering. "Sos I can put it up on the list we keep inside, just in case any of your kin come looking for ya. You wont be coming back from the redoubt. Like I said. No one has." He points his thumb at Mavericks companions. "How about them?"
Maverick turns and faces his friends. His face is blank. He really doesnt care one way or another.
"Im Gedoena, but I seriously doubt that anyone will ever come this way asking for me."
Gitana sighs. She wasnt going to tell the man her name, but decides to go with the flow. The other three gave their names, so what the hell, why not. "Gitana."
"Well, best of luck to you folks." The old man turns away and slowly hobbles back to his rocking chair.
In a matter of only a few minutes the quartet of friends are out of sight of the old man and his lively hood. Each one lost in his or her own thoughts. Not a word is spoken by anyone until nearly an hour later when the remains of an old side road are seen, as well as the fallen down remains of a gatehouse. A huge sign is still standing on the other side of the road. Even after all the decades its still fully legible.
ALL TRAVEL PAST THIS POINT RESTRICTED TO LEVEL B12 GOVERNMENT SECURITY ONLY. TRESPASSERS WILL BE MET WITH MAXIMUM LETHAL FORCE. THIS IS THE ONLY WARNING YOU WILL BE ISSUED. ALL PERSONNEL REPORT TO SECURITY CHECK POINT BEFORE ENTERING. IDENTIFICATION BADGES MUST BE WORN AT ALL TIMES.
"Subtle, werent they?" Comments Gitana, studying the sign.
Maverick steps into the ruined gatehouse, carefully inspecting the rubble. He shifts a few chunks of masonry and pulls a battered piece of electronic equipment. "Hmm It appears to be a sec card reader, and has several other functions that I dont recognize. Never seen this type of tech before."
Ged holds out her hand. "Can I see it Maverick?"
He tosses the useless piece of junk to the young mutant. "Think you recognize it?"
She nods her head, running her long talons over the ruined item. "Yes, I do. It was just introduced a few months before the war." She holds out the item, placing the tip of one talon on what appears to have been an eye piece. "This here, was a retinal scanner. You looked into it and lasers took reading of your retinal pattern. It was one of the highest security measures the government used."
Maverick throws his hands up in disgust. "Triple fucking great. How the fireblasted hell are we gonna get past that level of security?" He lashes out with his foot, knocking a piece of masonry several yards. "What the fuck is in the redoubt? Got me seriously worried about going inside. Not once while travelling with Trader did we ever encounter that sort of security."
"I couldnt agree with you more Mav." Says Joe as he walks past the others to the roadway. "Dont know how far this is going to lead before we hit the redoubt, but you can be sure that this is only the first in a series of sec check points. Bet the security is only gonna get tougher to slip past the further we go in." He points at the fence just past the gatehouse. "Wasnt the fence supposed to be fifteen feet high? That fence is only about eight feet, and doesnt look like it was electrified."
"Means that there is a second, if not third fence line once we enter." Gitana walks over to the heavy growth alongside the road. "Dont see any signs of wildlife, no droppings, no trails." She turns around placing her small hands on her shapely hips. "Something is really odd here. I cant place my finger on it, but there is something bothering me."
Maverick laughs. "Dark night, that old timers got us all on edge! Bet that the redoubt is totally stripped." He unlimbers his SPAS 15, hefting the weapon. "But still, were in a triple red situation, so everyone get your blasters out. Standard Skirmish line." He motions with his hand. "Ged, I want you up here with me."
The mutant walks up to him, the HK PDW resting comfortably in her talons.
"What do you know about this place?"
She smiles timidly, shrugging her shoulders. "Not much, really. Matt gave me the access codes, and the code to jump to the redoubt once we get to the gateway."
He nods. "I think its really odd. How did he know that we were going to be coming to this redoubt?"
The pair pass an unusual lump next to the road. Something appears to be covered by the thick vegetation. Maverick stoops down and clears it away, revealing a small bundle of moldy bones. "Looks human."
Ged sifts through the grisly remains. She pulls out part of the rib cage and the skull. "Id say it was human." She holds out the skull to Maverick who takes it.
"Been shot through the forehead. But nothing like Ive ever seen before. See the entry and exit wounds?" He shows it to the others, turning the skull around slowly. "The wounds are exactly the same!" He tosses the bony remains back on the ground. "Its either one hell of a high powered round, that lost no energy going through this poor bastard, or its a weapon that Ive never seen."
Gitana takes the rib cage. "Look here, the bones are splintered in some places. Looks like a standard blaster wound to me."
The mutant girl shivers slightly, rubbing her arms as if she was cold. "We best stick to the road. I have a feeling that to stray off the path will mean our deaths."
"Good suggestion girl." Joe pats the young mutant on the shoulder. "Only makes sense, after the warning we read on the sign. Bet the land is loaded to the max with mines and anti pers grens."
Maverick picks up the skull and flings it nearly fifty yards down from the road. It hits the thick grass and bounces once, but nothing happens. His scarred features redden in embarrassment. "Heh, so much for that idea."
Suddenly, there is a large bang and a puff of smoke rises from the ground. Maverick and Joe react the fastest. Maverick diving to the ground, and Joe leveling his blaster where the sound came from. Gitana is third, jumping to stand behind a tree, and then finally Ged. She stands without moving for a several seconds before finally hitting the dirt.
Maverick looks up from his prone position. "Guess its a delayed reaction." He stands, brushing himself off. "Looks like your right Ged. No one, and I mean NO ONE leave the road." He turns, hiding his smile. "Dont want to lose any of you." Especially you, Gitana, he adds silently to himself.
The four companions fall back into the skirmish line, Ged staying along side the big warrior. They walk together in silence for nearly five minutes before they finally come to a second fence line. Like the first fence line, the gate closing off the compound is open, the gate itself lying in the brush lining the road. Also, there is a gatehouse, but this one is intact. The only damage obvious to the group is the fact that the small shack is missing all its glass. Doesnt appear to have been blown or shot out, as the ground is free of debre.
Maverick walks up to the gate and inspects the links. "Someone used plas ex. Placed it right on the link where the gate was joined to the fence. Blew it clean off. Looks like someone came prepared."
Joe calls from the gatehouse. "Check it out. Someone took the arma glass right out of the shack! Wasnt blown out or anything." He scratches his hair and laughs. "The things scavs will take."
The mutant stares up at the fence. "I figure that its fifteen feet high."
Gitana nods in agreement. "See those ceramic bulbs?" She points to the bulbs lining the top of the fence. "They were electrified at one time. Might still be, so better not touch the fence. Might get a nasty jolt." She laughs at the others groaning.
Smiling, Maverick shakes his head. "That was awful Gitana. Fireblasted awful." He takes the lead once again and they continue deeper into the enclosed compound.
"Hey!" Joe calls out. "Anyone spot buildings or structures?"
The others shake their heads.
"Must be entirely below the surface then." Maverick says, shifting the shotgun to his other hand. "Seems typical. At least nine out of ten redoubts I was in with Trader were like that. Guess this one isnt going to be any different."
Gitana points directly ahead of them. "Your right about that Maverick. Check it out."
He follows where she is pointing and can clearly see a large grass and brush covered mound in the middle of the clearing. The road travels directly into the hillock. "Come on, lets check it out!" Maverick can barely contain his excitement.
A quarter mile later they all arrive at the hillock. Its only about fifteen feet high, but is nearly one hundred feet long. The road slopes downward, ending at a huge sec door. Maverick holds up his hand. "Hold up people. This looks real bad."
Piled up at the base of the sec door are piles of bones, from where he is standing, its easy to make out both human and animal. There are scraps of clothing still hanging off the blasted and broken bones. "Hope youve got those codes ready Ged."
She swallows audibly. "Yes, I have them." She walks up to the big man and takes his hand for comfort. Located on the north side of the hillock, just a yard away from the huge sec doors is a key pad, as well as a strange eye piece.
Just as they step up to it, a tinny voice rings out of nowhere. "You have thirty seconds to input the correct code and submit to retinal scanning. Failure to do so will be met with lethal force." To emphasize the point, there is the sound of well oiled panels sliding open and a slight hydraulic squeal as a series of blasters slide out from hidden crevasses.
"Brett?" Whispers Ged, her voice full of fear.
Maverick takes a step towards the sec doors, watching how the strange looking blasters follow his every move. The tinny voice erupts from the speaker. "Movement except towards the identification device will be met with lethal force. You have fifteen seconds to comply. "Ged, now!" He yells, not wanting to take any risks.
The young mutant steps up to the keypad and quickly types in a code. Each key hit pauses the countdown. With the final key hit, they wait to see if it worked.
End of Part one.
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