Time’s Enemy

Part Two

By Chris Van Deelen

Ged finishes punching in the last number. Everyone waits, tense, fearing that she didn’t input the correct code. When the tinny computer voice finally speaks, everyone breaths a sigh of relief. "Code accepted, lethal security measures deactivated."

With out a sound, the huge sec doors slide apart. As soon as the doors open, there is a slight breeze as the inside air pressure is slightly higher than the outside. The air smells ancient, unused. Then suddenly when the doors opened just over a foot, a hideous grinding noise can be heard, coming from the gears buried deep inside the wall. "Fireblast, that doesn’t sound good." Says Maverick, as he steps up to the door and peers through.

"Gahhh!" He screams in surprise as a bony hand slides through the gap and slaps him on the chest. He staggers back a yard and raises his scattergun, firing off three bursts. The skeletal arm disintegrates, and a they can hear the sound of bones being shattered and falling to the floor.

Maverick holds up a hand. "Hold your fire. False alarm." He grins sheepishly, obviously trying to get his breathing under control. "It was just a fucking skeleton, that’s all"

Ged makes a funny face. "Eww… I hate skeletons."

"Chica, skeletons can’t harm us. They are simply the mortal remains that are left behind when we finally return to the earth." Gitana says gently, walking over to Maverick. She peers into the open door. "It appears that the Redoubt was not evacuated during the skydark. The troops are still here."

Sure enough, sitting in front of the door are no less than fifteen skeletons. Maverick steps inside the redoubt, followed by Gitana, then Ged, then finally the big man Joe, who almost doesn’t make it. He has to struggle but finally squeezes his barrel chest past the thin opening. As if on cue, the tinny computer voice activates.

"Maintenance teams to main entrance. Maintenance teams to main entrance. Damage to door mechanism detected. Repair post haste."

"The computer is gonna be waiting for a hell of a long time." Joe says, crouching down to inspect the skeletal remains.

All the corpses are dressed in standard military issue uniforms. The one thing that catches Maverick’s attention is the fact that there is not a single insignia below the ranking of Lieutenant. Also, from the positioning of several of the skeletons, it appears as if they were trying to get out of the redoubt.

Gitana crouches next to Joe, and shifts one of the corpses to the side. A large, black stain is revealed, next to where the man’s head was resting. "Looks like old dried blood." She lifts the skull, looking it over. "I can’t see any sign of a bullet wound."

Stealing a glance at the small rad counter he carries, he is relieved to see that it is still in the green. "Radiation poisoning doesn’t seem likely. This place is cool, no sign of contamination."

Gitana notices that one of the corpses is holding his pistol, it’s locked open, the magazine empty. All around him are the spent brass casings. "I wonder if he did them in?"

His curiosity piqued, Joe shifts several of the corpses. Each one has a small puddle of congealed blood below where the head was resting, but he can’t see any sign of bullet wounds on any of the bodies. "I think I have a pretty good idea what did them in."

"Well, don’t keep us in suspense then, spit it out!" Maverick says, his voice slightly annoyed at having to ask.

If the other man noticed, he doesn’t let it bother him. "I figure it was either a chem weapon, or mebbe biological. Some sort of white coat tailored superbug."

Gitana turns as white as a ghost. "Rad fire! We better get out of here, before we become infected!" She stands up and tries to squeeze past the open door. "Come on, it might be too late already!"

Joe stands, and shakes his head. "If it’s bio, the bug would have died off years ago. Once all the hosts are dead, there is nothing to sustain the bug, and it’ll die off. So, unless it’s chemical, we got nothing to fear."

Maverick nods his head in agreement. The way he sees it, even if it was a chemical weapon that killed the soldiers, the redoubts filtration system surely has cleaned every trace out of the redoubt by now. "I don’t think we have anything to worry about."

Gitana shivers despite the redoubt being a comfortable seventy five degrees. "I hope your right Amigo, I hope your right."

The corridor they are standing in is fifteen yards high, and appears to be twenty wide. The redoubt itself has suffered little damage over the years, though from where the group is standing they can see tell tale cracks in the walls and floor, proving that the base had been subjected to quakes over the years. About one light in three are out, but there is still enough light to see clearly.

The corridor they are in angles downwards, and about fifty yards from the entrance makes a sharp curve to the left. Just to the right of the main entrance is a small door, with a large window located next to it. It appears to have been a security check point. They can see that the guard is still at his post, faithful until the end. Behind the guard there is a black splatter pattern, and the top of it’s skull is missing. Several larger chunks are embedded in the cement behind the man.

Joe walks up to the window and looks in. "Stupe chilled himself. I can see the .45 still in his hand and the brass case from the bullet is lying on the table next to him."

"Can’t say I blame him for doing it." Maverick says, then gestures at the corpses. "I’d probably have done the same if I’d been him." He looks at the century old corpse, wondering what must have been going through the man’s mind. The shock of the skydark, watching his fellow soldiers trying desperately to escape the redoubt, dying from a bio weapon or chemical attack, knowing that if he let them out, it could very well spell doom for the entire world.

"How did the chem or bio weapon get inside the redoubt?" Maverick says out loud, not even realizing that he had spoken.

"That’s a good question. It doesn’t look like anyone had managed to get inside, and from what you have told us about the redoubts you’ve visited, they are fully self contained, and immune to chem or bio attacks unless the base was somehow breached." Gitana takes a deep breath. "The air tastes like it’s been here forever. If any part of the base had been breached during the nukecaust, we’d taste the fresh air."

He stares at the glass, then steps up to it, as if noticing something. There are at least seven slightly discolored patches on the glass. The big man glances down and picks something up.

"What is it?" Asks Ged, trying to get a closer look.

He holds up the small item for everyone to see. "A spent .45 slug. See how it’s flattened on the top?" He points to the flattened tip of the round. "The soldier holding the pistol fired this off. He must have been trying to penetrate the arma glass so they could open the sec doors and get out."

"Well, that’s one mystery solved. Now we got about a million more to figure out." Says joe as he walks up to the door and tries to open it, finding that it is locked. There is a numbered key pad next to the door and he hits a few buttons experimentally, but nothing happens.

"Do you know what the odds are of you finding the right code to open the door are?" Ged asks, peering into the small cubicle.

The older man shrugs, hitting a few more buttons for the hell of it. "Probably several million to one." He smiles, pulling out his gun. "But, I’ve always been lucky, and I have other ways of bypassing sec like this." He puts the barrel of the blaster inches away from the panel and fires, blowing it clean off the wall.

He immediately gets to work, clearing the ruined remains of the panel away from the wires and circuitry. He studies the wiring, finally settling on several odd colored wires and sets out, stripping off the plastic sheathing, then twisting the wires together. There is an audible click when he is finished. He reaches out to the door handle and tries it. The handle opens smoothly and easily, giving them access to the small room.

"Pretty slick Joe." Maverick whistles in admiration. "I was taught a little about electronics when I was with trader, but I doubt that I could have figured out which wires to use as quick as you did. Where did you learn to do that?" He asks, looking over the other man’s shoulder into the tiny room.

The barrel chested man steps aside, allowing Maverick full access to the room. "Oh, just something I picked up here and there." He answers, cryptically.

For a moment, the scarred man considers pushing the subject, but then rejects it out of hand. They’ve been trying to get him to reveal how he got the horrible scarring on his face and back, but he’s held out until this time. So, let Joe have his little secrets.

He steps into the small cubical. It’s less than six feet wide but is filled with all manner of high tech security devices. A computer counsel is embedded right in the desk, a keyboard resting comfortably before it. A sophisticated communication panel is located next to the monitor, and there is a headset resting on top of it. To the left of the panel are four small monitors, three of which are blank, but the fourth showing the main sec door, from the outside.

Maverick pushes past the skeleton and hits a key on the computer keyboard. The screen flickers once, then comes to life. A screen appears with the a single sentence. ‘Enter security clearance password.’

He chuckles. Like the door, the odds of finding the right password are millions to one. He considers blasting the panel, but all that would gain him is a spent bullet and a strange look from his friends. He backs away, stopping as he notices something. Just below the counter is a large red button.

"Hey, any idea what this could be used for?" He calls over his shoulder to Joe, then ducks out, letting the other man see what he was talking about.

"I figure one of two things. Either it’s a override for the main sec door, or it’s a panic button, used to call security in an emergency." He steps out of the way, allowing the two women to see into the room. "Either way, won’t do any good now. The door is jammed open, and there’s no security to come a calling."

Maverick goes over to the corpses and starts searching them. Other than the sidearms, they are unarmed. Not one has any other weapons, be it a knife or grenade. He pulls the magazines out of the pistols and places them in his pack. "Now we’ve got over a dozen spare magazines for the twin colts. As trader used to say, better to have too much ammunition and not need it, than to have too little ammunition when you desperately need it."

He takes the point, as usual and walks down the gently sloping corridor. "Let’s see what we can find! If there are that many corpses inside the redoubt, I bet it’s filled to the max with blasters, grens, food and gear. Hell, mebbe we might get lucky and find ourselves some war wags, primed and ready to roll!"

Gitana smiles at his enthusiasm. She likes to see the warrior happy. Over the short time that she has known him, he has been fairly quiet, often prone to dark moods, where he wouldn’t speak a word to anyone for hours. Fortunately, those didn’t happen all that often. She thinks about it for a moment, then realizes that she’s never seen him so excited. The dark skinned beauty smiles to herself. Well, he does get pretty excited when she’s making love to him.

The follow the corridor until they come to the bend. Maverick sidles up to it, his blaster held at the ready, then peers around. "All clear!" He yells, quite unnecessarily. No one expects to see anyone. If there was someone in the redoubt, they would have shown up by now.

The corridor runs about another one hundred and fifty yards, still sloping downward. It turns to the right at the end. Again, about one in three lights are burned out. He sees four corpses sprawled on the oil stained concrete floor.

He takes the lead, as always. They walk carefully and cautiously down the tunnel, stopping to check the bodies. Like the ones at the entrance, the corpses had a puddle of ancient congealed blood where their skulls were resting. The forth and final corpse is different from the rest. This corpse is wearing the uniform of a major, and is armed with both a .45 caliber handgun, and has a M-16A2 in it’s skeletal hand.

He grabs the assault rifle, popping the clip, checking the ammo level. "This weapon’s been fired." He reaches out, carefully opening the jacket. He notices that the soldiers shirt is covered in blood, and full of holes. "Hey, this poor bastard’s been chilled!"

The others crowd around, as he points out the holes in the corpses clothing. "He’s caught three rounds in the stomach, and looks like one in the chest, and right shoulder." He tears open the clothing and digs around. He holds out his hand, showing the others what he found. Three spent rounds. "I figure that they’re 5.56 mm. Typical NATO round. And the fact that his weapon has been fired, looks like there was a firefight in the redoubt."

"What’s the name on the uniform?" Ged inquires, trying to see past the others.

"Spacy, Major Spacy." Maverick reads off the tag. He looks up at the young mutant. "Why you ask?"

"I am not totally sure, but I believe that I might have known him when he was alive."

"Really?" Joe exclaims, totally surprise. He knows the young mutants story, but always acted like he never believed it. "So," He asks, "What can you tell us about him?"

She pulls away, crossing her arms under her small breasts. "If it’s the man I think it is, he was one of the soldiers that was in charge of interrogating me when I was first trawled from the future." She spits on the floor surprising them all. "He was not very nice to me, not once."

The survivalist stares at the gob of spittle on the ground, next to the corpses foot. He’s never seen her react like that before. The bastard must have been really cruel. Well, he got what he deserved, that’s for sure. "Anyone want the assault rifle?"

No one takes the offer so he puts the weapon down on the floor, beside the corpse. "Might take it later, after we finish searching the redoubt. I just hope that the rad blasted gateway works!"

"Where is the gateway located? Anyone know?" Gitana asks.

Ged stares down the corridor, thinking. She turns back to the others. "As far as I know, they always built the gateways in the deepest part of the redoubt, usually far enough away that even if the redoubt was hit directly by a nuclear weapon, the gateway should survive, even with the seismic shocks that would occur at ground zero."

"Makes sense to me." Says Maverick. "If the base was nuked, I bet the top brass would want a sure fire way to get out, jump somewhere safe." He walks over to the bend in the corridor. "well, come on people, lets get on with it! The suspense is driving me crazy! We gotta see what’s in here."

Again, the corridor travels another one hundred fifty meters, still angling down. Once again the corridor turns, this time to the left. Lying in the corridor are another five corpses, but they all seem to have been shot to death. Even from where he is standing he can see the damage caused by high velocity rounds.

"Looks like someone was pretty pissed off, chilled everyone of them, and from the rear." The others can see that the soldiers were trying to race up the corridor, running spread out. But, who ever attacked the soldiers didn’t seem to care about that. They were shot at medium range, and so rapidly that not one had a chance to turn and retaliate.

"Man, love to see the blaster that could take them out like that." Whistles Joe. "Ace on the line firepower, that’s for sure."

Gitana glances at Ged, smiling. She mouths the word ‘men’ and the two women start giggling, earning a glare from Maverick. "What?" He snaps.

Gitana successfully manages to hide the smile. "Oh, nothing Amigo, nothing at all."

He stares at her for a moment, then continue down the corridor. He walks right past the corpses, not even bothering to stop and inspect them. The travel down the long tunnel, taking two more turns before they finally level out. Ahead of them they see a huge sec door, but unlike the main entrance, this one is totally open showing what appears to be a huge room. From the angle they are standing at, they can only see a few yards into the large room, and here even more lights seem to be out than normal.

"Hey, Brett. Is that what I think it is?" Gitana says, pointing past him at a large plaque on the wall. "I’m willing to bet serious jack it’s a map of the redoubt."

The big man smiles and walks over to her, whispers into her ear. She blushes slightly, but then laughs. "Your on Brett."

The four companions walk down the rest of the way and stop dead in their tracks. They can see fully into the large room. "Holy shit!" Maverick breaths, unable to believe what he sees. The map of the redoubt temporarily forgotten.

The room itself is over two hundred yards long, and about one hundred yards wide. Inside they can see row after row of military vehicles. Several variations of the Cadillac Gage range of APC’s, including the V-150 and V-300 hundred models, a half dozen M-113 Tracked APC’s, four Hummers, and even a pair of M1-A1 Abrams. He has never seen so many war wags located in one place at one time before. It literally takes his breath away. Then the shock wares off and he notices something.

Nearly all the vehicles appear to have suffered from battle damage. Several are nothing more than fire blackened hulks. He also begins to notice the explosives damage on the walls and can see no less than two dozen corpses, most of which seemed to have been blown apart.

"You can say that again Amigo." Says Gitana, her voice full of awe. Unlike Maverick, who is actually used to seeing such equipment, she has never seen a fully armed war wag before. It is quite a sight for all of them.

Maverick turns to face his friends. "Ok, Joe, you and Ged will walk the perimeter of the room. Check for doors, see if they are locked, or if they have sec codes on them. And, if you see anything out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate to yell."

"Sure thing Brett." Ged answers, immediately taking off to the right. Joe just nods his big head and smiles. He heads left without a word.

The small woman stares at him, her head cocked slightly to the side. "And what about us? What are we going to do?"

"Simple." He says, smiling. "You and I will check out the wags." He walks over to the M1 battle tank. "I hope that at least one of these things is still intact enough to use. Once We get Ged back to California, I have every intention of returning here and claiming these wags, and anything else we can find as my own."

She grins, placing her hands on her hips. "Your own?"

He stares at the woman for several seconds, trying to decide if she is being serious or not. "You know what I meant Gitana. We all take what ever we want. Hell, there should be more than enough to go around, right?"

Nodding, she walks over to the tank. "But what if someone gets in here before we can return?"

The big warrior had been thinking about that. "Well, I figure that the legend of no one returning from this redoubt will keep hunters away, and, in the off chance that someone decides to come and look around, I plan to set up some unpleasant surprises for them."


"Yup. With the equipment lying around, it’ll be triple easy for me to set up a ‘deterrent’ in case anyone decides to snoop around." He pulls himself up onto the top of the tank with ease, shimmying up to the top and glancing down inside the open hatch of the armored wag.

"See anything?" Gitana calls, walking around the tank.

He doesn’t answer for a moment. "Something is triple strange here. The tank’s been gutted, but not by combat. Looks as if someone planted plas ex and blew the shit out of the comp and other controls." He scratches his head. "Dark night, why would someone want to do that?"

"Maverick, down here." Gitana calls, crouching down to inspect the left side tread.

He jumps down from the turret, landing lightly on his feet next to the Spanish woman. She points out the scattered remains of a skeleton. "From the scatter pattern of his or her remains, I’d say that this poor fucker was right at ground zero when the blast occurred. I wonder what happened."

He crouches, inspecting the tread. It has been blown cleanly apart, and there is a large black scourch mark. One of the huge wheels has been severly damaged. "I’d hazard a guess that some one planted a charge right here," He points at the blackened section, "And this unlucky bastard tried to disarm it. He either wasn’t fast enough, or he set it off too early."

He stands, looking over the scene. The other M1 is severely damaged, the turret lying slightly askew on the large body. A large, jagged hole can be seen on the rear of the battle tank, right where the engine would be. "Now that was hit by a shell."

"So was that one." Gitana points to one of the V-300 APC’s. "Seems like someone wanted to not only take out any competition, but wanted to make sure that none of these wags would be able to leave. Nearly all of the wags show combat damage."

Maverick walks from vehicle to vehicle, noting any and all damage, as well as checking out the interior, to see if anything can be salvaged. Gitana follows his lead, lending a hand here an there, pointing out the occasional feature or mark that Maverick missed. It isn’t long before the others join them.

"So, what did you find?" Maverick asks, his voice muffled as he sticks his head inside one of the V-150 APC’s that seems to have escaped undamaged.

"Well, there are only three doors inside this room other than the main entrance. I took a moment to check out the map. Seems that this complex is really deep. Only this level is wide open. The rest of the redoubt is connected by an elevator. There are eight levels in total. Each level is marked with a different area of research. The level below us is mainly medical research.

"What else did you find?" Maverick queries.

"Three doors." The big man answers. "One is marked Administration, the second Dormitories and mess hall, and the final Research Arms and Armor." Joe answers, scratching his chin. "Need to shave." He grumbles.

"Just as he said Brett. Funny thing is, all the doors are unlocked, well, except for the door leading to the elevator that goes down to the research and science levels. I also took a moment to check the map on the wall outside. It appears that there are two gateways, and both are located in that section."

"Great." Maverick growls, pulling his head out of the APC and throwing his hands in the air. "Well, I guess we’ll either have to blow the door open, or see if you can pull off your magic with the sec electronics." He looks over at Joe.

"I’ll see what I can do." The older man shrugs.

Maverick stops, a funny look coming over his face. He turns around without a word and sticks his head inside the APC. A moment later he climbs in, ignoring the questioning looks from the others.

He thought he saw something out of the ordinary inside the wag. Sure enough, there are several weapons stowed away. Two M-21 sniper rifles, compete with laser imaging and a star light scope, as well as a M-60 GPMG, and a M203 Grenade launcher, attached to the barrel of an M16A2 assault rifle. Several crates of ammunition for each weapon are stashed, neatly tucked and tied away below the weapons, as well as two crates bearing the markings of grenades. He continues to look around and locates medical packs, body armor, boxes of MRE’s and Self heats, as well as all manner of equipment. Even a couple of cases of Coke.

"Whoa. It looks like someone was loaded up and ready to rock! Someone definitely had good taste in weaponry, that’s for sure. Exactly what I would have chosen."

Gitana enters the wag, followed by Ged and finally Joe, who stays at the door, content to simply look around.

"This wag’s brimming with fuel, the weapons are fully loaded, and its got spare parts." He sits in the drivers seat, grabbing hold of the controls. "Nothing is damaged."

"Looks like someone figured on deserting when the skydark occurred, and planned to make sure that they survived and would have more than enough firepower to take on any of the survivors." Joe says.

"Either that, or someone left this here for us." Laughs Maverick, causing everyone to laugh along with him. What an absurd thought. It would mean that someone would have to know that they were going to enter the redoubt. Maverick’s thoughts cause a cold shiver to run down his spine. What if that is the case. After all, Ged’s whitecoat friend gave her the codes to this particular redoubt, and how did he know that they were going to be coming here?

Maverick slides out of the seat and slips past Ged and Gitana. He steps outside and looks around. "Check out that other V-150. It looks unscathed. I’m willing to bet a months wage that it’s fully stocked and ready to roll."

Joe jogs over to the APC and peers inside. "Guess I owe you a months Jack Maverick." The big man calls out. "Just like the one your at, this one is full of equipment and weapons, as well as totally intact.

Maverick punches his fist into his other hand. "Well, that settles it. I’m coming back here after we get you home Ged, and I’m taking one of these babies for myself.

Ged looks like she is about to cry, but bites her lower lip, keeping her thoughts to herself. It doesn’t go un-noticed. Maverick can see clearly that the young mutant is very unhappy at the thought of him leaving her. But, he has his own life to live, and once she’s home with her family, she’ll soon forget all about him. Still, the look on her face nearly breaks his heart. "But, not to worry, I’ll come back once I secure the wag. Someone’s gotta watch out for you." Best to lie and save hard feelings than to be honest and cause trouble. But deep down inside, he wonders if he really could leave her all alone.

Seeing the girls reaction to his statement, Gitana rubs her hand over her flat belly, in an attempt to change the subject. "Don’t know about you three, but I’m starting to feel kind of hungry."

Maverick looks at his chron. "Only been a few hours since we left the ville. You shouldn’t be hungry that soon."

She smiles, taking his arm. "I’m a growing girl and I need my energy." The small woman steers him away from the wag towards the doorway that leads to the mess hall and dorms. It is closed off by a pair of large metal doors, but they push easily open to reveal a long corridor with several side corridors leading off, as well as numerous doors.

The quartet walk in silence, passing several more corpses lying in the corridor. Once again, Maverick has to wonder just what happened to the soldiers, and if it’s chemical, are they at risk.

They pass by several corridors that lead off to dormitories, as well as single suites for the redoubts higher ranking officers. They also pass by several offices, of which everyone has a nameplate made of brass attached to the outside of the door, revealing to them who once occupied the room. One door in particular catches their interest. There is a single corpse lying slumped against the wall. It’s obvious that he was shot by a scatter gun, as the splatter pattern covers a yard out on either side of him. He still holds a .45 colt in his right hand, and three brass casings lay on the floor next to him. A half dozen yards away they can see dried patches of ancient blood on the wall and floor.

"Looks like he managed to put a few rounds into who ever chilled him." Joe says, standing over the corpse.

Maverick nods, looking at the door. The lock has been blown out and the door itself is open several inches. He pushes it inward until he can see the whole office. It is rather barren, the only personal touches are a pair of cavalry swords hanging from a plaque on the wall. Seated at the desk is a man dressed in a General’s uniform. Most of his head is missing, and the wall directly behind the corpse is liberally decorated with bone fragments and dried blood. Next to the desk is a waste paper basket that was blackened from a fire. Maverick walks over and looks in, seeing nothing but fine powdery dust lining the can, but even after all these years it’s obvious that the man burned something.

Reaching down, Joe picks up a small object from the floor. He tosses it into the air so everyone can see it. "Spent 12 gauge shell." He snatches it deftly out of the air then flicks it underhand to Maverick who catches it with ease. "Guess we know what chilled him."

"What’s the name on the door? I can’t read the tag on his uniform as it is coated in dried blood." Maverick wonders aloud.

The mutant woman steps into the corridor and looks at the door. "Brigadier General Hammond."

"Ring any bells Ged?" Maverick asks, opening several of the drawers on the desk, rummaging through them but not finding anything of interest.

Ged shakes her head. "No a thing Brett. I don’t think I ever met the man."

One thing that the others have learned over the short period of time they have know Maverick is that he loses interest fast. He has a very short attention span. They can all see that he’s ansty about leaving, continuing to explore the redoubt. He walks past them without a word and leads the small group towards the mess hall.

Ged falls behind, matching her pace with Gitana. "I know it’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. Something really strange happened here, and I have to admit, I am more than a little scared."

Gitana nods, her waste length hair glistening darkly in the light. "I agree. But, you said that this redoubt had a working gateway and it is the fastest way for you to get back to your family in California. So we’ll spend a while looking around, then hit the gateway and jump out." She pats the younger woman on the back. "Besides, don’t worry. Maverick is confident that this place is clean, so we should trust him. I know he won’t allow anyone to harm us."

Maverick cuts a sharp left, following another long corridor. There are several doors leading off to the right and left. One is marked Senior Officers dining, another support staff dining and finally the third Junior Grade officers. At the very end of the corridor is a pair of double doors.

"Ok," Maverick says, stopping. "Lets check out the mess halls and find one that is relatively clean and neat. Lets hope we don’t have to crack open the self heats that we found in the APC’s.

The senior officer mess hall is relatively empty, only three corpses can be seen in it. All three have the tell tale sign of having died either from the biological or chemical weapon. Not too bad, but Maverick doesn’t relish the idea of eating along side someone who has been dead for nearly a century. He decides to check out the Junior officers mess. The room is totally corpse free.

"This one looks good to me. No dead in it." He walks into the room, noting the table set up at the far end. It has plates, cups and eating utensil’s stored neatly on its top, ready to be used by the troops that died during the skydark.

"I’ll go check out the kitchen, see if they have any food worth eating in it." Offers Ged, heading towards the double doors at the end of the corridor. It only makes sense to her that it is where it would be, considering that the only other doors in the corridor lead to dining facilities.

"Sure thing Ged." Maverick calls, checking the third and final dining room. Unlike the first two rooms, this one is blocked off. A metal bar was jammed into the handle, preventing anyone from leaving. He notices that the door is filled with holes, as if someone was trying to shoot their way out of the room. He pulls the bar away, then pushes the door open. This time he is prepared for the corpses that fall out. He takes a step backward and allows three skeletons to fall to the floor.

The room is positively brimming with corpses. He can see that several had indeed tried to shoot their way out of the door, but never made it. Unlike the other corpses, he spots what killed them right off the start. Sitting on the table is a Canister of nerve gas. It appears as if someone tossed it into the room from the doorway, probably the same person that jammed the door so they couldn’t get out. A triple hard way to go.

Maverick quietly shoves the corpses back into the room and closes the door. "Better not use this one. The chem agent might still be active."

At the same time Ged enters the corridor. "The shelves are filled with food. Lots of canned goods, though some have burst open over the years, and plenty of freeze dried food. Enough to feed us for several years if we wanted to stay here."

The four companions enter the chamber and choose what they want to eat. It is done without conversation or fanfare. They all head to the second room they checked out and sit down to eat.

Nearly an hour passes before they finish their meal. Gitana begins to gather the dirty plates when Maverick stands to give her a hand.

She smiles, taking a dirty cup out of his hand. "No Amigo, let me do this. You sit back and let the meal settle."

"Thanks Gitana." He belches loudly, the others chuckling at his slip. "Not a bad meal, considering how damned old it is."

Joe nods. "Military food. Remember reading predark books about how bad it was. But, I don’t think it was too bad. I sure have eaten a lot worse."

The young mutant woman stretches and yawns, then stands. "I’ll help Gitana with the cleaning."

The big man nods. "Sure, but I think you should find a dorm and get some rest. Been a long day, and you look triple tired."

"Ok Brett, I will, but it shouldn’t take too long to clean up. It’s not like we’re cleaning dishes for a whole army, right?" She leaves, the door closing and shutting off the sound of her taloned feet on the cement floor.

Leaning back in his chair, Joe enfolds his hands behind his head. "We gonna finish checking the redoubt tonight or tomorrow?"

Maverick considers his question. He would like to check out the armory as well as the research levels, but it’s been a long day, and he really wouldn’t mind heading off to get a shower and some sleep himself. But, the prospect of finding some serious firepower as well as stocking up on grens and maybe some plas ex is really important. "I think I’ll take a shower and get cleaned up first, then we’ll check the armory."

Joe smiles. It’s not his usual friendly smile, more of a knowing smile. "Sure thing Maverick."

"What," he growls, "is that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, nothing." Joe starts to laugh. "Actually, I bet you and Gitana want to get it on, don’t you?"

Brett blushes. "That obvious is it?"


"Believe it or not that is not what I had in mind this time around."

"Uh huh."

Maverick pushes his chair back and gets up. He leaves the room and heads back to the garage. As always, he has the SPAS 15 held loosely in his grip. Now that the security has been breached, anyone or anything could slip in. He wonders if the security is still running now that the sec doors are partially open. He mentally shrugs his shoulders. If they were, and someone tried to enter the redoubt, would they have heard some sort of warning? Well, nothing to worry about.

He passes through the doors leading to the Dormitories. The corridor travels straight for approximately one hundred yards before finally turning into a T intersection. Two signs clearly mark what is down each corridor. The one to the right leads to the enlisted dorms while the left leads to the officers. Like at the entrance, a single closed off security station is situated right at the center of the two corridors.

Ignoring the corpses scattered throughout the corridor he approaches the security station his curiosity stimulated. It appears that someone decided to take the guard out, and the easiest way they could. The glass was blown clear out, the entire security box blackened by fire, caused by an explosion. He figures that someone probably used a law rocket on it, or some triple powerful gren.

He peers into the wreckage of the security point. Scattered throughout the small box are shards of arma glass, as well as bits and pieces of bone, metal and cloth. Oddly enough, the guards legs are still intact, though resting at an un-natural angle.

Standing at the junction, he finally makes up his mind and makes his way down the left hand corridor, deciding that he would rather get some sleep. Wandering down the long corridor, he finds several side corridors, heading to double occupancy rooms, as well as private and VIP rooms. He decides to head down the corridor leading to the VIP. Be nice to sleep in an actual bed for a change.

He tries the doors, finding the first one locked. A swift blow with his boot takes care of that little problem. The room contains a single corpse. He could easily remove the body, but feels too lazy to do so, especially when there are numerous other rooms that might be clear.

The room contains a single bed, a desk, chest of drawers, foot locker, closet, and a private bathroom and shower facility. The bed is kind of small, but even with Gitana, it will be comfortable.

Four rooms later he finds a room that is empty, no corpses. Perfect. Just perfect! He exits the room and heads back towards the eating facilities. By the time he returns, Ged and Gitana have finished cleaning the plates and they are seated around the table, talking quietly. Gitana and Joe are sipping on a Coor’s lite, while Ged is drinking a coke. Seeing Maverick enter, Gitana cracks open a beer and holds it out to him. He nods his head, takes the bottle and sits down.

"Well? What did you find?" Ged asks.

"Couple of corpse free rooms. We’ll take them. I’ll share one with Gitana, while you and Joe will share another. I’ll take one of the spare beds and move it into the room for you. Security in numbers folks. Also, keep the commo gear handy, just in case."

No one disagrees with his decision, though Ged does cock her head to the side, studying Maverick. "Are you going to get a spare bed for Gitana?"

The small woman laughs, spewing her beer over the table. "No Ged, Maverick and I will be sleeping together."

She looks confused. "But why? Isn’t he a little old to need someone to help him sleep?"

Joe and Maverick both join in on the laughter. "Ged," Maverick chokes out, wiping the tears from his eyes, "No, its more than that. We have sex, then sleep."

"Oh, right." She looks down at the table, holding the coke in her hand. It becomes quite clear to the group that even though she may be physically an adult, no one ever bother to explain to her the nature of sex and relationships between a man and a woman.

Maverick knows that soon, very soon he’ll have to explain to her what it’s all about. Once again he feels more like a father figure to the young mutant than a protector. Why me? He mentally asks.

"So, what are your plans then?" Joe manages to squeeze out between snickers.

"I’m up for some sleep. We’ll hit the armories tomorrow and then explore the rest of the redoubt before finally jumping out to California. I want to see what the whitecoats were working on before the skydark." He stands up, offering a hand to Gitana. "Who knows mebbe we’ll figure out what chilled all the sec men and soldiers."

Gitana takes the offered hand and stands up. She doesn’t let go. Instead, she sidles up next to him and wraps her arm around his waist. The pair leave the room arm in arm and head directly to the private rooms.

Entering the small room, Gitana flops down on the small bed. "Nice! A real comfortable bed to sleep in for a change." She stretches sensuously, excentuating every curve in her small, supple body. "Double small though."

Maverick locks the door and sits down beside the Spanish woman. "Yeah, but not like we’re gonna be taking up all that much room. You’ll probably be on top all night." He laughs, bending over to unlace his boots.

Gitana reaches out and runs her hand over his face. "You could use a shave." She sits up and kisses him on the cheek. "I’ll do it for you, if you’ll let me."

"Uh, sure thing." That is the first time that any woman has ever offered to do such a thing for him. He finds himself more than just a little uncomfortable at the thought. The only time anyone has been near his face with a blade was the night he gained the scars. He manages to keep his face totally neutral, his thoughts hidden.

She sense his tension. It’s almost like a physical object she can reach out and touch. "I won’t if you don’t want me to Brett. I just like doing things like that for a man I care for."

A frown darkens his face. He kicks off his boots, enjoying the freedom to do so. "No, that’s ok Gitana. I’ll let you do it." He smiles, forcing away the anxiety he feels. "I think I’ll like it. Just, no one has ever offered that to me before, that’s all. Not all that rad blasted sure how to react."

The woman helps him out of his jacket and tosses it on the chair next to the small desk. She then stands and walks over to the small private washroom. "I’ll check to see if there are any disposable blades or straight razors here. It’ll be a bit uncomfortable shaving with your combat knife.

You, he mentally says, don’t know just how uncomfortable that would be. "Don’t bother Gitana. I have a shaving kit in my back pack." He grins digging through it until he finds the small bag. "How else did you think I was able to keep so smooth faced since we busted out of the slaver camp?"

An involuntary shudder runs through her body as the memories of her ordeal at the hands of the slavers come rushing back. She mentally forces the images back into the dark recesses of her mind. She laughs lightly at her own carelessness. "Your right Amigo. I should have thought about that!"

Maverick follows her into the wash room as she turns on the taps. For a few seconds nothing happens, then a trickle of rust colored water seeps out of the tap. Finally, with an almost painful sounding groan the water gushes forth. "Better let it run for a little while. I rad fire sure wouldn’t want that to get into a open wound. Bet it would turn septic in minutes."

He stands next to her and unpacks the shaving kit. There is a can of Gel, a half dozen disposable blades, as well as some tooth paste, tooth brush and a hair comb. He pops the lid off the can and is about to spray it into his hand when the small woman places her hand over his. "I’ll do it, remember?"

He nods, squirting the gel into her open palm. By this time the water has turned clear and is good and hot. The steam from the water fogs over the mirror. Gitana rubs the gel over his cheeks, chin and throat, letting the bristles of his beard turn the gel into a thick, rich lather. He hands her the blade which she holds under the piping hot water. Then with great care, she starts to shave several day’s growth of beard from his scarred face.

It takes nearly twenty minutes for her to shave him, but not once did she cut the skin. Despite his initial fear, it was one of the most pleasurable experiences he has ever had, next to making love. She could easily spoil him if she keeps this up.

With a deft flick of the wrist she cleans the blade and drops it back into the bag, then turns on the cold water and washes the excess foam from his face. "There! All done and you look mucho grande!" She stands back a few feet and admires her handy work.

Once again, the woman has done what few people have ever managed to do. She made him blush with her compliment. "I have to admit Gitana, that was something else."

Smiling coyly, she runs her hand over his smooth face. "See? Nothing to worry about! You men can be such big babies!" Her laughter washes over him and he can’t help but grin.

"True. But if you ever tell anyone that, I’ll fireblasted deny it."

Gitana shuts off the water and opens the door to the shower. She turns both taps on and as with the sink, it’s several minutes before the water becomes clear. During that time, Maverick sits down at the desk and field strips the two Gold Plated Colts Gitana took as her own from Greaves. One of the most important rules that Trader instilled on his men was to keep your weapons cleaned and oiled, that way they won’t let you down when you need them the most. He picks up his SPAS 15 and is about to pull it apart when Gitana wraps her arms around his neck and presses her body up against his back. He can feel the nipples of her perfectly formed breasts pushing against his skin through his T-shirt.

In a husky voice she breaths in his ear. "Lets make love in the shower."

Now that is an invitation he can’t refuse! He pushes his chair back and pulls off his clothing. Again, it’s a very strange feeling for him to stand totally naked, as he has only done it a few times in his life. A deep, nearly sick feeling over comes him as he stares at the supple body of his new lover. It’s the only way he can describe it. It’s not a ill feeling, but one of a sickness that can only be cured by the intimate contact between man and woman. He gathers her in his arms, marveling at how little she weighs. Can’t be much more than one ten he figures. She wraps her arms around his neck and pulls herself up to kiss him full on the lips.

Maverick is overcome by a hunger that he has never felt before. He returns her gentle kiss with a more desperate one, his tongue probing between her petal soft lips. She responds in return, lightly nipping at his lips and tongue, placing gentle pecks over his face and neck.

"Now Brett, not later. She growls heavily, slipping out of his arms. The small woman lifts her leg and grabs his manhood and guides him into her hot wet sheath. He barely suppresses a moan of pleasure as she envelops him. With no effort he picks her up off the floor and places her back against the wall. She in turn wraps her legs around his waist and grinds her groin against his.

Together, the man and woman move in sync with one another, slowly at first but gaining momentum with each passing second. They breath at the same time, move together at the same time. Finally, Gitana cries out, almost in pain as she comes, only seconds before Maverick. She smiles as she feels his hot seed fill her as he finally comes, neither halting their movement until the other has been completely satisfied.

Maverick opens his eyes and smiles gently at the dusky skinned woman in his arms. He is overcome by yet another feeling that he has never felt before. He’s been in lust numerous times over his twenty nine years of life, and the feeling he has towards the beauty are similar, but at the same time completely different. Could it be love?

"What are you thinking?" She asks, her voice still thick with desire.

"I think," He says, still moving in and out, ever so slowly, "I think I love you."

She doesn’t speak, instead she buries her face in his shoulder and holds him tight. "We’ve only known each other for such a short period of time."

He sighs. "That’s true. Guess it’s still to early to tell."

"Yes, it’s been what, only a little over a week? I don’t think that I love you Brett." She pauses, letting her words sink in.

He is very surprised at the pain her words cause him. He knows that it’s not just lust, but that he does love her. If it was simply lust, the words would have washed over him like a gentle spring shower.

"I know that I love you Amante." She adds finally. She was sure of that fact for several days. How could she not help but learn to love the big scarred warrior? After all, he risked his life to try and save her from the slavers. He nearly lost his life in the attempt. And he has been nothing but kind to her. Sure, he might growl occasionally, but that is just his nature. He is a fierce warrior, capable of inflicting incredible pain, capable of taking lives with his bare hands. But his inner nature is almost the opposite. He is a gentle, giving lover. He cares greatly for the young mutant which both surprises her and pleases her. Most people fear and loath muties, but he looks past her physical appearance and sees the young, lost girl trapped in the woman’s body. He didn’t have to, but he took the young girl into his care and made a promise to her that she knows he will not break, come hell or high water. She is sure that he will make a good father someday.

"Amante?" He asks, puzzled. She nearly laughs at the look of relief that shows on his face.

"It means lover in my language Brett."

He lets the word roll off his tongue. "Amante". I like that. He pulls out and helps her stand on the floor. "Lets go have that shower that we originally planned to."

They step into the tiny shower and wash up. It’s barely got enough room for one, let alone the both of them, but neither care. They spend nearly half an hour washing each other, talking and laughing. Soon the talking ends and the loving begins once again. They make love for a second time in the shower, and then twice more in the narrow bed before finally falling asleep, the small woman still lying on top with him still inside her.

* * *

Ged and Joe take the quarters next to Gitana and Maverick’s. The nice thing about this particular redoubt is the simple fact that the walls are sound proof. Joe smiles as they pass the closed door. He can almost hear the bed creaking with the rhythmic motion of their love making.

He opens the door and allows the girl to enter first. She nods her exotic head as thanks and sits down on the chair next to the desk. The barrel chested man leaves and comes back a few minutes later, dragging the frame of a bed with him. The bed itself probably weighs in excess of a hundred pounds, including the mattress and blankets, but he hefts it as if It weighed only a quarter of that.

"You take the bed that’s already here, and you can use the shower first." He grunts, placing the bed on the opposite side of the small room. He glances up as he fixes the bedding. "What are you doing?"

She smiles shyly and closes a book she was writing in. "Oh, uh, nothing Joe."

He notices that she is holding a pen in her hand, and the book appears to be one of those black square bound note books he’s seen on the rare occasion. "Were you writing something, or is that someone’s diary you found."

As if embarrassed, she turns away and tries to tuck the book inside her jacket. "It’s nothing Joe. Really."

Shrugging his shoulders the big man sits down on his bed and stretches out. With his hands behind his head he sighs. "Go on Ged, get cleaned up. I’m triple tired, and don’t want to wait all that long. ‘Fraid I’ll fall asleep if I have to."

"Ok Joe. I’ll only be a few minutes." The young mutant steps into the bathroom and closes the door. She strips out of her clothing as she waits for the water to clear up. The girl enters the shower and leans her head against the wall, allowing the steaming hot water to caress her body. Sex, she thinks. I should have known that. I know what it is, but I don’t understand what it involves. She lifts her head right into the powerful stream of water, opening her mouth to let the clear liquid enter. I know that it is what a male and a female do to produce offspring, and I’ve seen animals do it before. But are humans and mutants the same? I’ll have to ask Maverick about it sometime.

She uses the century old soap to lather up and washes her form in record time. She doesn’t bother to go into any heavy grooming, figuring that she can do that later on before she goes to sleep. The towels are old, but usable still and she dries off then dresses, wrapping her hair in a towel so she can dry it properly later.

"It’s all yours Joe." She calls out, stepping back into the main room. A light snoring is his only response. He is sound asleep on the bed,, his feet still hanging over the edge and his arms crossed under his head. As carefully as she can, she unties his laces and pulls off his boots. Then she places his feet on the bed. A blanket is on the foot of the bed and she uses it to cover him.

As quietly as she can, she opens her pack and pulls out the brush and scissors she has. For the next half hour she trims her hair and brushes it out. She can still remember her mother back in California doing that for her. Tears flow down her cheeks, un noticed as she concentrates on the task at hand. She misses her family terribly and can’t wait to see them again. Despite her heavily mutated appearance, her mother and father never treated her unkindly. Quite the opposite. Even her older sister treated her well. She has never lived without love. At least she never used to until that fateful day the white coats took her away from her family. But, she is going to see them again, and soon.

She remembers Matt telling her that the project they were working on was based on research they were doing with Operation Chronos. Using the same theories, they planned to break the dimension barrier and use it to explore other worlds, other realities. They named it Operation Quantum. For years they worked on perfecting time travel. Up until 1998, all their attempts had been failures. All except for one. She remembers him telling her about a Doctor Theo Tanner. They tore this man from his family in the eighteen hundreds and brought him to the present day. The trawl had aged the man beyond his years, or so she had been told.

Even after tearing him from his family they continued to experiment, using victims from the past, as well as the future. There were still many, many failures, but over the time they were able to use the data they collected to improve the technology. She heard that they had finally perfected the tech and were about to start using it for ultra black ops when the skydark occurred. She wonders where and if the tech still exists somewhere.

She wipes the tears off her face and inspects her hair in the mirror. Satisfied, she puts the brush and scissors away and pulls out the book she found. It’s nothing spectacular, just a hard bound notebook. When Joe left to get the other bed, she went through the drawers in the desk. It was filled pens, pencils, and other typical office equipment. In the bottom drawer she found a pile of nude magazines, which she quickly replaced, not all that interested in looking at other naked females. But below the magazines were several black bound books.

She took the books and placed three of them inside her pack, as well as a supply of pens. It was her intention to keep a journal of their travels and all the things that they would see and encounter on the trip back to California. When Joe entered, she had just started to write down her thoughts and feelings when Brett first woke her up and befriended her. Opening the book she continues to write.

Hours later, she feels her stomach rumbling. A quick glance at her watch tells her that she has spent nearly three and a half hours writing. It surprises her. She figured that at the most, she had been working for possibly an hour, maybe and hour and a half.

She pats her jacket, making sure that the magazine for the Desert Eagle are still in place and she draws the big blaster. Quietly she opens the door to the room and makes her way down the corridor to the mess hall and kitchen.

A few mintues later she enters the corridor leading to the mess hall where they had eaten only a few hours before. A strange, pungent odor greets her, almost like wet hair. She runs a talon through her hair out of reflex, noting that it is totally dry. What could be making that strange odor? She stops in her tracks. Oh-oh. The sec doors to the redoubt are still partially open. She is willing to bet that some animal made it’s way into the redoubt, probably scenting the food from the self heats. She leans against the wall, holding the large blaster two fisted before her, the barrel pointed at the ceiling.

Should I go back and wake the others? Ged ponders. She shakes her head mentally. No time for that. Guess it’s up to me to figure out what is going on here. Brett’s instructions come back to haunt her. While they have been travelling together, he took the time to impart the wisdom of combat he learned from Trader, Cawdor and Dix. She can actually hear his voice as he explains how to handle a hostile in a room with only one entrance.

"You know, or you are pretty sure that there is someone hiding in a room. Got no choice but to go in so here’s what you do. Don’t just walk in. That’ll get you chilled right then and there. Lean up against the door frame, then crouch down as low as you can go. They’ll probably expect you to do that, and odds are that they will be aiming for your center of mass. If you crouch low enough, odds are that they will miss when they fire, giving you a chance to chill them instead. And don’t bother to look in first. You’ll get your head blown off, or at the very least, they’ll know where you are. Lean around the corner as fast as you can, acquire your target and blast it! Nothing fancy, just a quick kill."

She does just as he instructed her to. In one fluid motion, she slides around the corner, the blaster held firmly in her grip. Her mouth drops open in surprise as she shouts out loud. "You!"

* * *

In the growing darkness two figures, life long companions, travel side by side down the ruins of the old highway. The first figure is a young woman, in her late teens. She appears to be almost perfectly normal, despite her poorly cut hair. She has a pair of blades strapped to her shapely thighs, and is wearing a skin tight black body suit under a pair of shorts and a buck skin jacket. Her companion is a large cougar, not as large as some of the mutants that roam the Deathlands, but larger than your average.

The two have been following their quarry for over a week now, ever since that fateful night she tried to prevent that huge man from hurting the smaller, dark skinned woman. She really can't put to words her reasoning following the group, and she doesn’t bother trying to guess.

Other than a few minor side trips, it has been very easy for them to follow the group. She is quite confused when they take a sudden turn off and head towards a before time ruin. She has seen many such ruins in the past, and really doesn’t know why they hold such a facination to the norms, but if she wants to meet up with them again, she has no choice but to follow them into the ruin.

Her feline companion growls softly in it’s throat. She stops and cocks her head, eyeing the big cat curiously. "Yes, do have to." She laughs as the cougar swishes it’s tail, showing it’s annoyance at the thought of entering the ruins. The cat never did like the norm’s habitations, and frankly, neither did she. They always smell so bad, and especially in the case of ruins like these, positively stink of ancient death.

They follow a small path through the woods and pass by a patch of forest that shows recent signs of an explosion. The stench causes the girl to sneeze violently, but deep down she is relieved not to have detected the odor of recent death. Her friend flattens it’s ears and growls even deeper in it’s throat. It has never liked being around norms, and doesn’t like the change that her companion has under gone. They get closer to a large mound and the cat stops dead in it’s tracks, refusing to budge.

The girl places her hands on her hips and glowers at the feline. "What," she hisses, " You think you doing?"

It’s deep tawny eyes bore deep into hers, holding her gaze for several seconds. "Fine, I go, you stay. See I care?" She tries to step around the cougar, but it moves directly into her path, still growling deep in it’s throat.

She throws her hands up in frustration. "Then come with. That, or move." She feints to the left, then when the cat moves to stop her, she deftly leaps over it, and races towards the man made mound. The cat roars in frustration and give chase. The athletic skill of the young woman is amazing, as she dodges and leaps from side to side. She skids to a halt as she approaches the huge metallic sec doors, that are frozen open, only about a foot and a half apart. She can see the blasted skeletal remains of a man lying at the base of the entrance. She can still smell the cordite from a weapon that had been fired only a matter of a few hours ago. The cat stops beside her and sniffs the air. It’s no longer growling, but it’s ears are still plastered on it’s head.

She sniffs the air, catching the elusive odor of the small group she’s been following for the past several days. Sure enough, they entered this predark building. Just below their usual odor, she can smell fear. Something scared them, or one of them badly. She sticks her head into the redoubt and glances around, noticing the ancient corpses lying next to the sec doors. She stands stark still, opening her senses to the fullest. She can hear the sounds of scraping, and some minute clanging from deep within the walls. She has no idea what it could be.

Without warning a tinny voice comes from no where. "You have thirty seconds to enter security cod….. Code…. Term….Force…..starting….no….now…..

A hidden panel opens and a blaster slides it’s way down from it’s hidden recess. Without stopping to think about it, she dives through the opening. A stucco of blaster fire pounds her ears and she actually feels the displaced air shove past her legs as she slips into the base. She picks herself off the floor and steals a glance outside the entrance. The cat is no where to be seen.

Once again, the tinny voice sounds. "Intruder aler….. Intruder Alert. Sec…. Sec…. Security……" There is a loud snapping sound and the voice ends abruptly. She wonders if the people she has been following may have heard the disembodied voice or not.

Turning around she studies the corridor. The tell tail odor leaves a clear path for her to follow, nearly as good as following foot prints in the mud. She knows that they went deep down into the redoubt, and the tell tale odor of cooked food greets her, making her drool. She never realized how hungry she is. Be nice to have a bite to eat, even if it’s from those metal cans. She prefers her food raw, but she’ll take what she can get.

She returns to the sec doors and peers out, careful not to go past the metal of the door. Placing her fingers between her lips, she blows a shrill whistle. Along the tree line she can see a large tan fur coated creature appear. She closes her eyes and concentrates on the animal, opening her mind to it. The wild, familiar feeling of it’s primitive mind touching hers is one of the most pleasurable experience she knows. She forms a mental image of the big cat running as fast as it can, dodging from side to side and sliding past the doors. She implants the image of fresh meat, raw and bloody in the female cat’s mind. She too, can feel it’s hunger and knows that the image will be all it takes to convince the cat to follow her in.

To test the speed and accuracy of the sec system, she grabs the skull and tosses it underhand out into the open. She hears the gears as the blaster track the skull, but it’s not followed by the sound of the weapon going off. The skull bounces twice before settling in the dirt.

She dares to stick her hand outside and pulls it back almost immediately, not wanting to lose it to the gunfire. But this time she doesn’t even hear the gears of the tracking system. It’s possible that just like the disembodied voice that the sec blaster has broken down. Taking a great risk, she peers outside. Sure enough, the weapon is hanging loosely from the mount, not moving.

Opening her mind she sends an image to the cougar that the way is not only clear, but totally safe. Reluctantly, it crosses the open space between the forest and the redoubt, diving past the door as it doesn’t trust the man machinery to stay dead. The cougar deliberately slams into the girl as it lands, knocking her down. She can almost sense it’s laughter as it pads away from her, seemingly quite interested in some ancient stains covering the wall.

The girl brushes her self off and walks down the tunnel. Her keen hearing picks up the sounds of something metallic working behind the wall where the sec door slides into. But, other than that, the redoubt is as silent as the tomb it has become. She decides to follow the delicious odor of food, right to it’s source. They pass through the huge chamber containing the arma wags, directly down to the mess hall. She can see the signs, and understands that one of the signs is a map of the redoubt, but other than a handful of words, she doesn’t understand what the words mean. She never had much of an education. She never really needed much of an education, as she has relied on her hyped up senses to help her out.

She enters the mess hall and is nearly overcome by the smell of cooked food. It has only been about twenty four hours since she last ate, but she has gone longer than that without eating in the past. After a few minutes searching she discovers that the mess hall doesn’t contain any food. It doesn’t bother her though. She walks down to the kitchen and goes through the cupboards, checking the images on the packages until she finds one that looks like it would be tasty. She can’t read the label, but the picture of the meat and vegetables is inticeing and she takes two packages, as well as several bottles of clear water.

Almost as an after thought she grabs several more containers with images of meat on them for her cougar friend. She doesn’t dare return without something for her cougar, as it’s always provided for her.

She enters the mess hall and sits down at the table, facing the door. She cracks open all of the packages, one after another and places all but the two she took for herself on the floor. The big cat digs in, purring contedly. Knowing that her friend is happy, she finally allows herself to eat her own meal.

Her mind wanders as she eats her fill, wondering what she is going to say to the people that she was following. The big man with the scars on his face and body frightens her, and she knows that he is capable of great violence. She hopes that he won’t try to do anything to her, and for some reason really wants to see his barrel chested friend again. It’s possible that the mutie girl will try to stop him from hurting her, and she knows that the cougar would defend her with her life.

That is just a problem she’ll have to deal with when it comes. It does make her wonder though, why she spent so much time following them. She can’t figure it out. In the past she has never been so curious about the norms. What is so different about this particular group of norms? Deep down she knows that there is a gap that needs to be filled, and she feels that this group of people are just what she needs to fill that gap.

Halfway through the meal both she and the cougar pick up the sounds of someone approaching the mess hall from down the corridor. It’s time to meet with the norms. She can hear the person sidle next to the door then with a loud crash, the strange mutant girl she saw with them enters, a huge blaster held tightly in her small fist.

"You!" She cries out in surprise.

"Yes me. How you?" Smiles the woman as she takes another bite of the self heat.

* * *

Maverick wakes up with a start. He lay’s perfectly still, not moving a muscle, nor does he change his breathing. It’s a very important skill he learned during his time with the War wags. If you give any indication that you are awake, it could very well buy you a ticket on the last train to the coast.

Gitana’s small form is still on top, her face buried in his neck. He finds it hard to believe that he’s still inside of her, even though he lost his firmness hours ago with their last romp. Listening, all he can hear is her soft breathing. What the rad blasted hell woke him up he wonders.

He peels open a lid and glances around. The room is pitch black. He slowly slides his hand to the .45 that he kept tucked under his pillow. Gitana mumbles at the movement but doesn’t waken. With vast slowness, he transfers the blaster to his other hand and then reaches out and turns on the light. To his relief, the room is barren, nothing different than when he and Gitana went to bed earlier.

"Gitana, wake up." His voice is barely a whisper as he speaks directly into her ear. She wakens instantly.

The tiny woman glances around. "Trouble?"

"I’m not totally sure Gitana. Slide off, ok?"

She does so, not bothering to cover herself. Maverick hands her the .45 and takes his SPAS 15. Checking the door he is again relieved to see the door still locked. He grabs his clothing and dresses, and is quite pleased to see that he didn’t need to tell his new lover to do the same.

Armed and ready, he unlocks the door and crouches, peering out into the corridor. He strains his hearing, trying to pick up the tell tale sounds of intruders. Nothing but silence greets his ears. But as before, he has learned never to ignore his instinct when it comes to potential danger. And in the Deathlands, if you don’t take precautions, even when things seem perfectly safe, if could cost you your life.

He checks the door leading to the room that Joe and Gedoena are sharing. Finding it locked, he heads down the corridor, making his way towards the main entrance. Nothing sees any different than when it was when he passed this way earlier that evening. He peers out the sec door and shrugs his shoulders.

Don’t know what got into me, he thinks scratching his head. Gitana eyes him curiously as he does an about face and heads back down the tunnel into the bowels of the redoubt. "Well, if someone did enter the redoubt, I can’t see any signs of them."

She matches his speed and takes hold of his hand. "You hungry?"

"Yeah, I guess so. You kind of wore me out! Need to replenish the old energy reserves."

She laughs lightly. "I wore you out? Remember Amante. You are a great deal stronger than I am! I swear, I must be walking funny right now!"

They both laugh as they pass through the garage and make their way to the mess hall. Almost in union, they stop. "Smell something out of the ordinary?" Maverick whispers, rising the shotgun. The weapon is raised even higher as he spots one of the mess hall doors open. He knows for a fact that he shut the door when they finished their meal earlier.

She nods her head. "Yeah, someone burst open a couple of self heats in the past hour. Think Ged or Joe may have decided to stop in for a late night snack?"

He considers it. "Yeah, I figure that is probably the case." He whispers into her ear. "But, just in case, better go check out their room." He quietly pops the magazine and checks to make sure that it is fully loaded.

She nods her head and creeps down the corridor. He waits until she is fully out of sight before creepy crawling up to the door. As he approaches the room, he can hear someone talking. He relaxes somewhat, figuring that it must be Joe and Ged. He can tell right away that it’s Ged speaking. He lowers the weapon and walks right up to the door when the other voice answers. He is unable to make out what is being said, but it stops him dead in his tracks. The other voice is female as well!

Dark night! Ged’s in trouble! He automatically assumes the crouching combat position and raises the blaster. In one smooth motion, he swings around the doorway, immediately spotting the two figures seated at the table. The weapon rises, and he’s about to pull the trigger with a tan furred paw lashes out and smacks the weapon out of his hand. Before he is able to react, the attacker follows through, slamming him to the floor.

Maverick growls and struggles against his attacker, a large cougar. He cat has one arm pinned beneath it’s forepaw, preventing him from reaching his combat blade. He is effectively unarmed, so he does the only thing he can. He makes a fist with his free hand and drives it into the side of the cougar’s head.

The blow is impressive. The cat is rocked right off him, sliding to the floor. It roars in pain and anger, but the blow was so hard that the cat sees stars. She shakes her head, trying to regain her senses. Maverick’s now freed hand rips the combat blade from it’s sheath. Raising it, he’s about to slam it down into the exposed back of the large cat when a voice cries out.

"No!" The intruder screams. The fear and desperation in her voice causes Brett to stay his hand. Recognition dawns as he takes in the intruder’s features. It’s the same young woman that interrupted his and Gitana’s love making session over a week before.

The cougar picks it’s self off the floor and slinks over to the young woman. It’s clearly unhappy about the turn of events. Curling itself up next to the woman’s feet, it growls softly in it’s throat, ears nearly flat against it’s skull.

"What the fuck?" Maverick Roars in anger. "What the fuck are you doing here?" He takes two steps towards the table, raising his combat blade. "I thought I told you to fuck off and never show your face again"

"Brett, calm down. Please?" Ged pleads, standing up and stands before the enraged man, one talon closing gently over the blade and forcing it down, the other coming to rest on his chest.

Glowering, he reluctantly allows the young mutant to lower his hand. Deep down he knows that if she really wanted to, she could easily disarm him, as she is so much stronger than he is. His gray eyes lock with hers. "Why the fuck should I?"

She refuses to look away. "She doesn’t mean any harm Brett. She just want’s some food and a warm place for her and her cougar companion to sleep." Looking over her shoulder, she sees the woman watching the exchange.

The big man sheaths the blade. In front of the young woman rests a couple of self heats, both empty. He also notices that there are several on the floor next to her mis-matched feet. As before, she has a hiking boot on one foot, and a knee high boot on the other. The cougar, still growling, inches nearer to the self heats, as if to protect it’s food from the man.

"Ok. Take as many self heats as you can carry, grab a room, and then I want you to leave in the morning." He turns to walk out.

"Can’t make me leave." Challenges the young woman. Maverick stops in his tracks.

"What did you say?" He asks, his voice as cold as a glacier.

She stands, pushing the chair away. "Said, can’t make me leave. You hard hearing norm?"

Ged turns. "Don’t provoke him!" Her voice clearly carries the warning that she is not joking around. This is a dead serious situation.

"Oh, I can make you leave all right." He roars, the knife once again sliding free of it’s sheath. He shoves the young mutant out of his way and rushes forward.

Undaunted, the feral girl draws her own pair of Tanto blades. In two fluid steps, she leaps from the table, launching herself at the larger man. The movement is nearly too fast for Maverick to follow, but as the feral woman leaps, instead of side stepping, he slams himself forward, meeting her head on. He outweighs the girl by nearly seventy pounds, and it’s like her slamming into a wall. The impact forces her back only a couple of feet and she is able to retain her footing.

He is able to deflect one of the blades, but she scores a hit along the left side of his chest. It's a superficial wound at best, but he does growl at the sudden burning sensation it causes. A lash with his leg sweeps the feral girls legs out from under her and she crashes to the floor in an unsightly heap.

A small warm body slams into his side and pins him to the wall. Ged has one talon firmly wrapped around the knife weilding hand and rams it into the wall. The force of the blow nearly breaks his wrist and his entire arm from the elbow down goes numb with the shock of the smash. The combat blade drops from his nerveless fingers. The mutant bares her teeth and hisses under her breath. "Enough Maverick!" Her strangely shaped head whirls about and she glares at the feral woman. "That goes for you as well."

He is taken back by her sudden attack. He has always been a powerful man, stronger than most by far. All those years of working on the farm when he was a child built his powerful physique. He strains at her iron grip but is unable to move even a fraction of an inch. The anger he felt only moments before grows like a wild fire. "Let go of me Ged, before I bust you up."

She laughs, infuriating the man even more. "Maverick you are in no position to even consider that. None." She stands on her tip toes and stares him right in the eye. "Now, CALM DOWN!" She screams.

Gitana enters the room. Her jaw drops in shock at the sight that greets her. She immediately steps up to Ged and Maverick and grabs the mutant by the shoulder. "Ged, what are you doing?" A half asleep Joe is right behind her, raising his M-16, not sure what to do.

"Let go of me please Gitana." Ged refuses to relax her grip on the man, afraid that if she does blood will be shed in the wake. "I don’t want Brett or the woman to hurt each other."

Moving next to the mutant, she takes Maverick’s hand in hers. "Amante, calm down, please?"

As he looks inter her brown eyes he feels the anger drain away as if someone pulled a plug. The struggles cease and he relaxes his body. "Ok, both of you. I’m calm." His voice is still full of anger, but it’s not the deadly anger that only moments before threatened to consume him."

With as much dignity as she can muster, the feral woman rises off the floor and straightens her clothing. She raises the blade that cut Brett and sniffs at it, as if trying to imprint the odor of his blood into her memory. The big cougar is ready to pounce, but relaxes as well, seeing that the danger to her friend has passed. She nods her shaggy head once in acknowledgement for Gitana’s timely intervention.

Ged has been with Maverick long enough to know that he has calmed down and the danger of him attacking the feral woman has passed. "Thank you Brett." She returns to her seat at the table.

Stooping down Maverick picks up his blade and sheaths it. He glares at the newcomer and her female cougar companion while trying to rub the feeling back into his throbbing wrist. Why did I even bother to get out of bed he wonders.

The Spanish woman lifts his shirt and inspects the knife wound. "I hate to tell you this Amante, but I don’t think your going to end up with a scar from this wound." She holds out her hand. "Someone hand me a napkin and some water. I want to clean up this wound."

To both their surprise, the newcomer hands her what she requested. Joe finally lowers the blaster and yawns hugely and then scratches his mussed up hair. He doesn’t notice the way the woman is staring at him, drinking in both the sight of his body and his scent. "I’m gonna get some coffee sub. Anyone want some?"

"Sure." Maverick say’s walking over to the table and sitting down beside Ged. The dark beauty sits next to him, dabbing the slight wound with a water soaked napkin. As she said, the wound is superficial and the blood flow has been stanched. She smiles, knowing that he doesn’t need any stitches.

His young ward watches the cleansing in silence. Finally, when Gitana is finally done, she speaks. "Brett, please, don’t force her to leave. At least let her stay the night. I promise that first thing in the morning I’ll help her pack up and see her to the main sec door."

Automatically, he wants to argue with her, tell her that there is no way in hell he’s gonna let her stay behind. As he opens his mouth, Gitana lightly pinches his side. He looks at his lover, and sees the word no as plain as day in her eyes. He feels his anger building once more. He’s the leader of this band, and he expects his decisions to be obeyed. Seems that recently everyone wants to do their own thing and that what he says doesn’t mean a thing.

His anger is obvious to everyone. "Amante, let the woman stay for Ged’s sake."

"Ok." He grabs his coffee and runs a hand through his mussed up hair. The four others in the room watch, waiting for the big man to continue. "She can stay for the night." He wants to tell her that she’s to be gone for good next morning, but seeing the happy glow on Ged’s face stays his tongue.

"So, how did you follow us all the way here?" Joe says, breaking the silence.

"Not follow you." Smiles the young woman, revealing her sharp teeth. She positively glows as she answers. "You go same way I go."

Undaunted, he continues. "Ok, then explain how you were able to keep up with us. After all, we were using a wag, and your on foot. And, we’ve been taking the back roads and going off road quite often, just in case the slavers decided to follow and get some chilling."

The woman blinks, shrugging her shoulders. "You not travelling fast. I move faster than you on ground. You move faster than us on road." Silently she adds that with her heightened sense of smell, it’s incredibly easy to follow them. After all the wag leaves a clear trail of fumes for her to track, even if it’s been nearly a day and a half.

Maverick stands, shoving the chair back. "I’m gone. Gonna get the sleep you cost me." Nodding his head to Ged then Joe, he steps out of the room. Gitana grabs his and her coffee cups and follows. "Good night everyone."

Joe grunts, Ged waves and smiles, and the feral woman simply stares. The little woman pauses at the door then turns around. "What is your name anyhow?"

The question obviously takes the young woman by surprise. Her mouth opens and closes several times, but no words come out. "Not have name. Never need name."

"Your kidding!" Blurts Joe, the surprise too much to conceal.

"No kidding. Serious." She crosses her arms under her small but supple breasts.

"Then what should we call you?" Ask Ged.

The cougar yawns and stretches, her gaze falling on each person in the room before closing her eyes once again. The Feral woman shrugs. "You call me what you like. That fine by me."

"I say we call her what she looks like. Feral." Offers Joe.

"Hey, that’s insulting!" Ged blurts, surprised that Joe would offer such a name. "She deserves better than that."

The cougar’s ears perk up and she playfully slaps at Joe’s foot. She then meows, sounding just like a regular house cat.

The barrel chested man laughs, pulling his leg out of the cougar’s reach. "Seems like your cougar likes the name."

The newly christened woman nods. "She does like. If not like, she let know. I don’t care. Name not meaning to me." She sniffs, picking at her near empty plate. "What Feral mean?"

Both Ged and Joe go to answer, Ged stops, letting Joe answer. "It means wild, untamed. Just what you are. We’re civilized, your totally wild. No family, only friend a cougar. I honestly think that it fits."

She accepts his explanation without comment. If it was anyone else, she would probably have rejected it out of hand. But for some reason, it coming from the big man seemed to be as natural as breathing. She wonders why that is the case.

Ged wipes her brow. "Wow, that was close. I thought for sure that Maverick was going to try to kill you for sure!"

The statement cause the feral woman to pause without comment for several seconds. She knows Ged is right. She too, thought that the huge man was going to chill her. She could smell his anger and intent, the way most people can read a face. She wasn’t exactly afraid, after all, most norms she’s encountered she could easily chill. The mutant shrugs, her looking totally unconcerned. "Not worried. He not so tough."

"That’s what you think." Ged snorts. "You’ve never seen him fight. And besides, you should be able to figure out that he’s a survivor. You’ve seen how many scars he has."

"Scars mean only get hurt lots. Too many, means man easy to hurt." Feral counters.

"Oh yeah?" Ged nearly shouts as she leans forward so her face is less than a foot away from the other womans. "He nearly died trying to rescue Gitana, and would go to hell and back for me. He promised to get me home to my family, and if anyone can do it, he can."

The older mutant is not dissuaded at all. "Your point?"

She throws her hands in the air, annoyed and agitated all at once. "Oh, for gods sake. I give up. I thought that I was trying to help you, and trying to prevent anyone from getting hurt." She pushes away from the table in a huff. "Goodnight Joe. I’ll see you when you come back to our room."

He nods, simply taking another sip of his coffee. He stares at the newcomer seated near him, the large predator at her feet.

"What?" She demands, more than a little annoyed at the way things took such a drastic turn.

"Oh, nothing. Not a thing." A huge yawn slips past his lips, and then stretches. "I’m gonna head back to bed. See you later." He leaves the room, heading down the corridor, the sound of his booted feet echoing dully, fading into the distance.

She shakes her head. These norms. Moody, hard to understand, figure out. One minute they are for the most part friendly, then the next minute, they are arguing, growling at her and just about ready to fight all over again. The woman rubs the back of her neck, trying to ease the strain she suddenly feels.

Her eyes bore into the cougars. She mentally images her and the big cat lying on a bed, sound asleep and contented. Her friend mrows in agreement. She doesn’t know how to tell time, and never bothered to learn. What’s the point? Don’t own a watch. But one thing she does know for certain is that it’s been a long day, and she is very fatigued. Eating the huge meal didn’t help matters either. Many times in the past she has eaten a great deal and always felt sleepy, and this time it’s no exception.

As if the cougar was reading her thoughts, she gracefully uncoils from the floor and makes her way to the doorway. She pauses and looks at the feral woman, her eyes asking the unspoken question.

"I coming. No rush me!" She walks over and scratches the cat’s ears. "We go, find room with no dead. Sleep long and good." The two life long companions quickly make their way to the quarters. Despite the fact that none of the four people took the time to show her where she could sleep, she can follow the trail as easily as if they left foot prints on the floor. Everyone of the four companions have their own distinct odor. She never has like the way norms smell. Too strong, not clean at all. Like her cougar companion, she is constantly cleaning her self, bathing in natural streams and pools.

She passes both rooms. Even with the door closed and sealed, she can hear Joe snoring away. She smiles, trying to imagine the poor girl trying to get sleep with that much racket. She passes the room with Maverick and Gitana. She nothing but silence. They are sound asleep right now.

The two friends check several rooms before they find one that is free of corpses. She locks the door as her cougar friend curls up on the bed. Feral heads straight for the bathroom. She is actually quite excited. Only a handful of times in her life has she ever had access to hot running water, and the few times she has, it’s been one of the most pleasurable experiences of her life.

The taps turn easily, despite the decades that passed since they were last used. The stench of the foul gruel that emerges nearly causes her to throw up, and she pinches her nose shut waiting for the water to clear up. The wait isn’t long.

Into the hot stream of water she steps, not even bothering to strip out of her clothing. She believes in cleaning both her body and her clothing at the same time. The water courses down her lithe body, washing away day’s worth of dirt and grime.

The feral woman doesn’t know about soap or shampoo, but strips off her cloths one at a time, carefully rubbing the cloths together, watching the grime wash down the drain. One by one her clothing is removed and cleaned. She leaves the sopping wet pile at her feet and gets to work on her form, scrubbing away the dirt from every square inch of her body.

Nearly an hour passes before she is finally finished. Shutting the water off, she squats and wrings her clothing out before draping the articles all over the kitchen so they can drip dry. She knows that in a matter of a few hours they will be wearable. Despite the temperature controlled environment, she shivers and runs to the bed. The cougar doesn’t even bat an eye as she crawls under the covers and curls next to it. Feral drapes her arm over the cougar’s broad back and falls asleep almost instantly.

* * *

Joe awakens and glances at the chron on his wrist. It’s a little after eight in the morning. He sighs. The barrel chested man blinks and rubs his sleep encrusted eyes. He isn’t used to this sort of luxury. Most of the time he’s awake half the night, his ears open and listening for the slightest odd noise, then up at the crack of dawn.

It’s one of the unwritten rules of the Deathlands. When you are travelling, you sleep lightly. If you don’t, and you ignore even the slightest sounds, it could chill you. But deep inside the redoubt, with the doors locked in the room he shares with the mutie, he feels safer than he has in decades.

Across from him is the young mutant woman. He nearly bursts out laughing while he is looking at her. The woman looks so much like the little girl Maverick claims she is, her thumb partially in her mouth, her body curled up in a tight ball. She mumbles under her breath, the thumb slipping out and sliding under the covers.

He sits up, his legs hanging over the edge of the bed. What a night! Finding the redoubt, eating a decent meal, and meeting up with the strange woman they met a week before. He is really looking forward to checking out the lower levels, as well as getting some new weapons and loading up on ammo. Then after all he’s heard from Ged, he can actually try one of these ‘jumps’. The thought of his body being ripped apart, molecule by molecule sits in his stomach like a lump of molten lead. He’s feeling more than a little nervous at the prospect. But, if it can get him half way across the Deathlands in a matter of seconds, it’ll be worth trying out.

Quietly he slips on his boots and laces them up. He sleeps fully clothed. Yet another survival habit that nearly everyone in the Deathlands follows. Even inside the redoubt, where he feels fairly safe, he doesn’t feel safe enough to undress.

The girl opens her eyes as he unlocks the door. "Morning Joe." She mumbles sleepily.

He nods, smiling. "Morning Ged. ‘Bout time you woke up."

"Kind of hard for you me to sleep with you snoring like a buzz saw."

He frowns. "I don’t snore."

"Yes you do!" She retorts. I have never heard you snore before, but last night, I am surprised that you didn’t wake up the dead soldiers inside this base!" Like Joe, she slept with her clothing on. She swings her bare feet over the edge and stretches, growling slightly.

"Not gonna bother arguing with you over it. Not the time or the place." He leaves the room, heading towards the mess hall. "Gonna grab some chow. You coming?"

"Sure Joe, just hold up a second, ok?" She calls after him, going through a routine of stretches and movement exercises. It’s a habit she picked up during her time with the white coats, something to help her wake up fully once she crawled out of bed in the morning.

Joe is standing near the door, his arms crossed, looking slightly annoyed. "Sure took your rad blasted time, didn’t you?"

The girl takes his arm in hers. "Thanks for waiting Joe. I have to wake up, and that’s the best way I know how."

He smiles, the frown disappearing off his face like the dew off the grass when the sun comes out. "Try coffee sub. May taste triple bad, but works for me."

"I don’t care for caffeine. Makes me too jumpy!"

Arm in arm, they enter the mess hall. Maverick is sitting at the table, digging into a self heat with relish. He looks up, the fork sticking out of his mouth. "Hey you two. Ready to do some exploring before we jump out?"

"I can’t wait!" Cries Ged, happily. "Just think, in a few hours I’ll be home in California, and then only a matter of a few miles travel and I will be with my family! It’s been far too long since I was last with them. Far too long."

"Good morning Brett." She calls, waving at the scarred man. He looks up and grunts. Never was much of a morning person. "Sleep well?"

He grunts again, rubbing his eyes. "Nope."

"Why’s that? Were you too upset to sleep because of the other woman showing up?"

Turning, he glares at the young mutant woman, his eyes blood shot and looking terribly sore. "What? Oh yeah, that little minx and her overstuffed cougar." He mumbles under his breath, while picking up his coffee sub. "Why don’t you two go get yourself something to eat? We’ve got a hell of a long day ahead of us, so better chow down while you got the time."

Joe places his hand around Geds shoulders, pulling her in close. "He’s tired because he was up all night having sex with Gitana." He says in an exaggerated stage whisper.

Maverick hears every word. Half choking on his coffee, he spews half of what he drank all over the table and finds himself in the clutches of a coughing fit. Ged is behind him before he can do anything, smacking him hard enough to knock him into the table. "Are you ok Brett?" The concern obvious.

He waves a hand, while pushing himself away from the table. "Yeah." He coughs. "Did ya have to hit me so fireblasted hard?"

"Uh huh." The mutant nods. "I didn’t want you choking to death on me."

"Well, thanks, but I would have been ok. Just went down the wrong tube, is all."

She walks back over to the door, glaring daggers at the barrel chested man. He simply shrugs, giving the girl that ‘what did I do’ look. Inwardly, he’s smiling. He loves to catch people off guard. Only way to see their true selves.

As the pair are about to leave, Gitana enters. "Good morning Chica! How did you sleep?" The small woman asks as she sits down next to Maverick, ripping open a self heat as she kisses the survivalist on the cheek.

"I guess better than Brett. He was up all night having sex." She turns and frowns at Joe. She points at him with her thumb. "But he could wake the dead the way he snores!"

The look on Maverick’s face causes his three friends to burst out laughing. "Hey, she’s just a kid, don’t be talking about that sort of thing when she’s around.

Gitana is laughing so hard she is nearly in tears. Ged turns from Maverick to Gitana then back to Maverick. "What’s so funny? I know about sex. It’s how babies are made. I learned about it when I was with the white coats. The told me that when a man and a woman sleep together, if they are really good, nine months later they go to see their doctor and if he thinks they are ready, he gives them a baby."

Her little speech catches everyone off guard. Joe quickly leaves the room, his shoulders shaking in suppressed laughter. The Spanish woman laughs even harder, falling to the floor as her legs become too weak to support her any longer. But Maverick simply stares, his mouth open in shock.

"Ged, one of these days, we gotta talk." Her revelation stuns him. He figured that she must know even a little about what goes on between a man and a woman, but after what she just said, he knows he is wrong.

"About sex?" The girl asks, as innocently.

"Yup." Closing his eyes he shakes his head in disbelief. He decides to change the subject before she forces him to explain to her what sex entails. "Go on girl, get yourself some chow."

With inhuman grace she glides out of the room into the corridor and follows Joe, heading to the kitchen to get some breakfast."

Once the girl is finally gone, Gitana is able to get herself under control. She sits up, wiping tears off her cheeks. "Amante, I can’t wait until you try to explain what love making is all about to her."

"Should make you do it." Growls Maverick.

Gitana sits down beside him and kisses him tenderly on the lips. "But she is your ward Amante. It’s your responsibility to explain the facts of life to her." Her smile melts his bad mood as quickly as wax in a blazing fire. "Besides, be good practice for you." She adds cryptically.

He stares at his lover for a second. "Yeah, guess your right. Your not…" He leaves the question unasked. Logically, he knows that even if she was, it’s far too early for her to notice any changes.

"No Amante, not yet." Her smile positively makes her face glow. "But, I can’t think of anyone else I would rather create life with."

Any comment he is about to make is cut off as Ged and Joe re-enter, both holding a self heat. They sit down across from Gitana and Maverick and dig in. The meal passes quickly and quietly, each person concentrating on his or her meal.

About fifteen minutes later Joe breaks the silence, doing his best to stifle a belch, but not succeeding. "S’cuse me." He mutters as an apology. "We gonna hit the armory first?"

Maverick nods his head. "Yeah, lets check out the blasters. I’m not giving up my SPAS, but we really should get some long guns and better blasters in the party. I figure that a redoubt like this, with all the research going on should have a mess of special ammo. Be nice to get a few boxes of mercury tipped, mebbe some Depleted Uranium or some solid slug rounds for the shot gun."

A small woman steps into the room and sits down at the table next to the four companions. Everyone holds their breath, waiting for Maverick to lose it and start freaking out on the newcomer. But to their surprise, he doesn’t.

"Go get yourself some blasters and gear, load up on all the food you can carry and leave." His voice is totally calm, no hint of anger or hostility.

The feral woman stares at him. "No want leave. Like here. Think gonna stay. Warn, safe, dry. Lots food, new thing to see, and do." Her cougar companion sidles up next to her and places it’s paws on the table, looking expectantly at the self heat. With a disgusted sigh she pushes it over to the cat and cracks open a second one for herself.

Ged and Gitana both know that Maverick is not the kind of man you talk back to. When he says something he wants done, he expects it to be done. Without either realizing it, they are both waiting for him to explode. But, once again, he surprises the both of them.

Maverick shrugs. "Suit yourself. We’re going soon, so you can have the whole rad blasted redoubt to yourself." He continues to prevent her from arguing with him. "Ok, if your all done, lets hit the armory and load up. Then we can check out the research sections as we make our way down to the gateway.

Touching the mutant’s talon, he gets her full attention. "You remember the code for the gateway in California?"

She nods. "Clearly."

Unlike the night before, Maverick gathers up the empty containers and walks over to the garbage disposal, dumping the mess. "Ok, lets head out people."

The four companions head out of the mess hall and head towards the redoubt armory. One thing that Brett has never been able to figure out is why the armories inside the various redoubts he’s been in over the years with Trader and the crew, we’re unlocked. With that much firepower resting at someone’s finger tips, it wouldn’t be hard for them to steal blasters for their own use.

The doorway opens smoothly, revealing another long corridor. There are several side doors spaced out about one every fifty yards. Lying haphazardly along the long corridor are dozens of corpses. One hell of a firefight occurred here, and what really surprises the four companions, it appears as if it was between at least two factions. What sparked off such a revolt Maverick is certain they will never know, but he sure would like to know.

Splashed over the walls are literally gallons of century old blood and organic matter. Only once can he ever remember seeing the aftermath of such a firefight. It was just after he joined Trader’s crew. They stopped near the ruins of old Houston. Like the rest of the predark villes, Houston was all but wiped off the map. Over the decades as the background radiation dissipated, the humans returned to build shanty towns inside the ruined suburbs.

One of these suburbs was controlled by a Baron named Johnny Braderick. He, several months before had put in an order for no less than fifty assault rifles, not to mention handguns, ammunition and any other weapons they could find. The baron had plenty of jack to pay for it, as he sent teams into the ruins to locate and empty out all the bank vaults they could of any jewelry and precious stones they could find.

Trader’s biggest downfall was in the fact that he really didn’t care what the baron’s did with the goods he sold to them, just as long as they paid him. When they arrived in the ville the exchange took place as planned. The baron took his blasters, ammunition and grenades, and armed his large force of sec men. Trader sent Dix and Cawdor into the ville to find out exactly what the baron was up to. It turns out that the baron had been fighting a losing battle against a group of well armed muties for nearly a year.

The arrival of the blasters couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Just as the baron armed his sec men, the mutant’s attacked. Despite the fact that Trader wanted to keep his people out of the battle, they were drawn into it. Out of all the various mutants in the Deathlands, only the scalies ever seemed to have the gumption or the will to use blasters. The fight was brutal, one of the most viscous battles Maverick had ever been in.

When it was over, the ground was scattered with over two hundred corpses. Baron Braderick’s sec force was nearly wiped out, but the mutant’s were defeated. In the battle Cawdor and Dix personally killed over thirty of the muties. Maverick managed to kill seven of the invading mutants, which all thing considered, was a pretty good score. The corpses lined up along the corridor remind him of that battle. In his mind, he can still hear the smell of cordite, the iron tang of spilt blood, the cloying stench loosened bowls, the death rattles and cries of those still clinging to this world.

"Wonder what happened here?" Joe mutters, voicing everyone’s thoughts.

Maverick shrugs. "Personally, I don’t really give a flying fuck. I just want to get at the blasters. It’s ancient history." Stepping over the dead soldiers and opens the first door. The last thing he expected to hear was a tiny snap and then a loud metallic clunk. "Oh fuck me sideways!" He shouts, diving backwards away from the hall. He slams into the other three, knocking them to the floor, just outside the main entrance. And not a second to soon. The explosion of the grenade isn’t all that loud, not like the Hollywood grenades. They all hear the sound of the shrapnel pelting the walls.

"You stupe!" Gitana smacks the big man on the top of the head. "I thought you’d be a little smarter than that. After all, you’ve told us about your time exploring redoubts all over the country. Haven’t you ever encountered boobies before?" She rages.

"Fireblast!" Maverick raises his arms to ward off any further attacks. "Yeah, I have encountered boobies before, and I made a fucking mistake. Don’t’ worry about it. We’re all fine, no one hurt or chilled." He clamors to his feet, brushing off a fine film of dust from his clothing. "Won’t be making that mistake again."

"That’s for sure, I’ll be opening the doors from this point on." Growls Joe, carefully stepping over the bodies. At the door, he inspects the handle, fingering the now broken piece of string that had been attached to the mini grenade. He is quite certain that there won’t be a second trap on the door, as the explosion from the first would have taken care of it.

The door opens to reveal a warehouse filled with crate after crate of blasters. M-16A2’s, HK MP5’s, Mossburg shotguns, sniper rifles, brand new SOCOM hand guns and numerous other weapons, too many to categorize all at one glance. It’s obvious that this particular redoubt was just upgraded before the skydark. Several crates of blasters were damaged by the explosion, as well as a large number of crates lay strewn about, having been smashed opened to get at their contents.

"Ok, load up people. Get some decent blasters. Everyone take a long gun or a sub gun. Looks like they have some find hand blasters, and at least one of us need a blaster for sniping." Like a kid in a candy store, Maverick rushes into the room and chooses a row. Without a glance backwards, he disappears.

The other three follow suit, each going off in a different direction. Despite the fact that they all have decent blasters, they opt to trade in their weapons in exchange for new weapons. Maverick keeps his SPAS 15, but exchanges his HK PDW for another. Despite the temptation to pick up one of the new SOCOM pistols, he’s grown very attached to the Desert Eagle. The big blaster has proved to be the most reliable weapon he’s ever used.

Gitana keeps her twin gold plated colt .45’s. She figures that since Maverick already has a submachine gun, she’ll find a long gun. Most people would find it funny to see a woman her size using a full sized blaster, but they need at least one. Two German manufactured blasters catch her eye, one is the PSG 1, a 7.62 blaster. It has a half decent magazine capacity, and one hell of a good range, but, the down side is the weapons weight. The blaster weighs in at just over 8 kg, according to the manual. She rejects it out of hand. Another German blaster catches her eye, the Walther WA 2000. It’s another match quality weapon, but the magazine capacity isn’t quite up to the level she was looking for. She nearly takes it, but like the PSG1, it weighs to damned much!

She decides to settle on the old standby, a M40 sniper rifle. The downside is that it has a small capacity, but it’s fairly light weight, and has one hell of a great range. It can be fit with a scope. She knows it will be easily to locate a good scope in this redoubt. Hell, if she doesn’t find one, it’ll be one hell of a surprise.

The mutant girl looks around the huge chamber, unsure what she should take. But at the same time she doesn’t want Maverick to be disappointed with her. His words are burned into her brain. She wanders down the isle, checking over the boxes as she goes. Several times she opens crates and inspects the weapons present, trying to decide if she should take it or not.

Eventually she settles for a HK MP5 PDW, just like the one that Maverick carries. She is used to the weapon, so figures that it would be a good choice, instead of trying to break in an unfamiliar blaster. She then settles for a M-16A2 assault rifle as her main weapon. Sure, it isn’t a powerful sniping blaster, but it has a half decent range on it, so it should more than suffice. As it goes, she doesn’t mind the CAR 15 carbines which are just a smaller version of the M-16 to begin with.

For her personal side arm, she picks up a simple Colt .45. Reliable, easy to maintain, and that is all she really cares about. Her shopping complete, she grabs several spare magazines for the weapons and loads them into the pockets of her jacket. She’s about to join the others when an item catches her eyes. She picks up the ungainly weapon and smiles, knowing that Maverick will be very pleased with her choice.

Joe isn’t as picky as the others. He chooses a pair of pistols, both HK USP .45’s. The weapon has a capacity of ten rounds, plus one in the chamber. It weights in at 2.66 pounds empty.

For a long gun he chooses a Mossberg M500 ATP8S. The weapon can hold six rounds in the tube, another chambered. The weapon also has been modified with a speedfeed magazine tube stock, one round on either side of the barrel for fast emergency loading. The stock of the weapon is also modified to hold four dead rounds which can be inserted into the tube manually. In total, the weapon can hold fire seven rounds without a reload, and with a quick flick of the wrist, be loaded with two more shots, making for a total of nine rounds. Very decent compared to most shotguns.

He’s satisfied with what he took, and is about to head into the ammunition storage when he passes by the personal combat weapons. A large variety of knives are there for the choosing, he grabs an M7 Bayonet for the Mossberg, as it has a bayonet lug attached to the barrel. One blade in particular catches his interest. It’s a PKP Bowie. This isn’t your standard 11 inch bowie blade. The top breaks open to load a single round of .38 special. Perfect for the those who don’t believe in bringing a gun to a knife fight. Of course the weapon has a range of only about 12 feet, but in a knife fight, the ranges are usually far closer than that.

Loaded up and grinning like a kid who just raided a candy store, he heads to the ammunition storage, meeting up with Maverick and Gitana. Maverick looks over the weapons he chose and nods approvingly. "Fine blasters Joe. You sure know your weapons." He holds out his hand, and Joe passes the one of the USP’s to him. "Nice. Did you grab the tech manuals for these?" Maverick asks, admiring the sleek lines of the handgun.

"Yup. No point in carrying the weapon if you can’t maintain it."

Maverick and Gitana nod in agreement. "Make sure you study it over so you can field strip the weapon with your eyes closed." Maverick says, handing the gun back to the other man.

"So, what kind of caps we got here?" Joe mentions, as he slips past the other two, heading into the isles which are loaded with box after box of ammunition.

When Joe had joined them, Maverick had been busy stuffing several boxes of ammunition into his back pack, as well as loading up a number of magazines. "All kinds, as well as some pretty exotic stuff." He starts to list them off on his fingers. "Standard, hollow point, mercury tipped, Teflon coated, Depleted uranium cores, SABOT, as well as some solid slugs and flechettes for the shotguns." He jerks his thumb over his shoulder towards a separate isle. "I saw some triple weird stuff down that isle, gonna check it out in detail after Ged is finished getting herself armed."

"Grens?" Joe queries.

"Again, you name it. Burners, WP, frag, implodes, smoke, mini’s." He holds out a handful of the lethal bombletts in his hands, showing a mixture of fragmentation, White Phosphorous, and implodes. "Load up on what you can carry. Plenty for the taking."

Ged shows up, the weapons neatly tucked away in their holsters, the M-16 cradled in her talons. She beams at the three of them as she hefts the new weapons. "Look Brett!" Slung below the barrel of the M16 is an M203 40mm grenade Launcher. "What do you think?"

Mentally, Maverick slaps himself for not thinking to take the weapon earlier. "Damned good find girl. What kind of grens did you take for it?"

She slips a bag off her shoulder and hands it to him. She names off the ammunition as he peers inside. "I took about a dozen fragmentation, a half dozen White Phosphorous, three implodes, and three smoke grenades."

He closes the sack and hands it back. "These certainly will come in handy. Only bad thing about these weapons is that 40mm grenades are difficult to track down. They’re worth their weight in gold.

Joe points at a large bundle sitting on the table next to the scarred man. "What’s that?"

"Plas ex. I used up the last bit I had in the redoubt I found Ged in. Figured that its about time to restock my supply. Never know when it’ll come in handy."

Maverick slaps his hands on his thighs. "Ok, everyone ready to get some armor?"

With that, the four friends head out of the bases armory and a few steps later are inside the armor and gear section. The only one of the three who doesn’t need body armor is Ged. Maverick needs to replace his armor that was taken off him when he was captured by Greaves, and neither Gitana or Joe had any to begin with. Finding the right sized armor is not a problem, as there are rack after rack of vests, as well as joint, leg, arm and groin guards.

Fifteen minutes pass before everyone is suited up. Not only did they take the armor they needed, but loaded up on fresh web gear and belts, to make things that much simpler when it comes to reaching gear. Another twenty minutes pass, as they take the time to load magazines, grenades and other weapons onto and into the newly acquired gear.

"So, what do you say? Figure we should do a little recce on the rest of the base?" Maverick asks.

Its obvious that Ged is in a hurry to get home, but she doesn’t comment. Joe simply nods once, while Gitana glances between Ged and Maverick, trying to decide how she should vote. On one hand, she is as curious to discover what the whitecoats may have been working on at the time of the skydark, but she can also see the impatient look on the mutant’s face. But before she can act, Maverick nods his head and turns on his heels. "Some quick exploration it is then."

Entering the main corridor they nearly run directly into the feral woman and her cougar companion. The large feline rears back, ears flat against its skull, a low growl slipping past it’s throat. Maverick considers going for his blaster, but in the end decides it’s just not worth it.

"Plenty of top notch blasters inside. Best help yourself." He states calmly to the feral girl. She reaches out and pinches the armor strapped under Mavericks jacket. "What this?"

He shoves her hand away before answering. "Body armor. Stops blaster bullets. Keep you from getting chilled in a firefight." Yeah, he adds mentally, as long as the fuckers don’t shoot you in the head.

She nods, but whether she actually understands him or not, he can’t be too sure. "All things considered, be a damned good idea for you to pick up some."

Without another word, the young woman and her cougar friend step into the armory. Maverick leads his companions down the tunnel towards the elevator that will eventually take them down to the gateway, and the jump out of the redoubt.

Inside the main armory, the feral woman stops and gazes about in awe. She has seen plenty of blasters in her short years, but never seen so many weapons, or so many varieties in one place at one time. The smell from the other people lingers inside the chamber, as well as odors she can’t identify. She manages to stifle the urge to sneeze as she wanders down the isles.

First she goes into the handgun section. Most of the blasters are too big and unweildy for her liking. Unlike the girl Ged, this particular mutant isn’t incredibly strong. Still considering her size and build, she is strong enough. Eventually she settles for a Glock pistol. The memory of the weapons and gear flash to the foremost part of her mind. She grabs a half dozen magazines and stuffs them into an oversized pocket on her jacket.

The weapon safely stowed, she heads into the long gun section of the armory. There are far too many weapons to choose from, and she is about to turn around and leave when she spots a rifle sitting all by itself on a shelf, away from the other weapons. It’s a Steyr scout. The weapon was first introduced to the public in late 97, early 98. The weapon fires .308, and has two magazine available five and ten round capacity. The weapon weighs in at 7.1 pounds and has a relatively short barrel, only nineteen inches in length, giving the weapon a total overall length of thirty seven inches. The weapon is also fit with a bi-pod and a leupold 2.5x Scout scope, with auxiliary metallic sights. Not as long as the typical Steyr blaster, but perfectly built for her small stature.

She grabs the weapon and slings it over her shoulder. That’s more than enough for her. Two blasters. Besides, she’s not all that good a shot. Her specialty lies in unarmed and blade combat. She isn’t what most would consider world class, but she is damned good none the less.

The woman walks to the armor storage. Again, she heard what the others were talking about, an its difficult for her to comprehend that something like that vest could stop a blaster shot. She is lucky. Not once over her years has she been shot. She has suffered from many other wounds, but never suffered from a gun shot. Still, it’s something she doesn’t want to have to face, so she quickly chooses a vest, as well as leg, arm and joint guards. To her delight, she is able to find armor that is fully camouflaged, which would make fine additions to her ensemble.

The young woman decides that she is going to follow the others. They don’t realize it, but she could hear everything that they were talking about. Gateways? What is a gateway? How can someone use it to travel from this section of the Deathlands all the way over to the western islands in an instant? This is something she is determined to see.

Back in the hallway, she steps over the grisly remains of the soldiers who fought here so long ago. Despite the many decades that pass, the stench of death still clings to the corridor like an ancient fog. To minimize the stench she breaths through her mouth. Her friend growls softly, upset at being forced to follow her through the tomb, despite having a full belly. With her free hand, she scratches the cougar behind the ear. I know. Don’t like the smell. You feel like I. Very bad. We leave here soon. She speaks to the cougar mentally, feeling it’s unhappiness as if it was her own.

Even the norms bad smell is infinitely more tolerable than the stench of death that clings to everything in the corridor. She follows it as they pass through the top most level of the redoubt. The trail passes another storage room and she peers in. It is filled with shelves of clothing and boots. She has been using the same cloths for as long as she can remember. Time for a change.

Wandering through the isles, she picks and discards clothing. She considers taking military strength jeans and shirts, but settles on a pair of camouflaged fatigue pants and a matching jacket, as well as a military green pair of shorts and T-shirt. She peels off the old coarse pants and shirt, tossing her worn and mis-matched boots aside. Anyone seeing her would notice that she wears a deep black flesh hugging body suit, which leaves nothing to the imagination. She has the body of a dancer, lithe and lovely. The young woman then peels off the body suit and dons a pair of panties and a joggers bra. She isn’t used to wearing such, but it feels good none the less.

Spotting a backpack, she loads up on several extra pairs of panties, bras, as well as socks. For good measure she throws in a number of T-shirts and shorts as well. She continues to search the shelves and is absolutely delighted with one item she finds. What it’s doing in such a place she can’t figure out. It’s a camouflaged body stocking, much like the black one she is wearing at this time. To make it even more effective, the stocking also has a full hood, the only opening on the face is for the eyes. With glee, she stuffs it into her bag as well. Finally, she grabs a pair of calf length combat boots that are just her size. It takes a few minutes, but she finally gets them on and laced up so that they are comfortable.

The scent trail is only a few minutes old, she knows that she isn’t all that far behind the norms. She decides to follow the trail, staying just out of sight.

* * *

The four friends take the elevator. It can stop at all levels, but Maverick knows that Ged is not going to be able to wait much longer. The levels they pass are not identified, so they have no idea as to what they are passing.

"Ged, we’re just going to look around the lower level, then use this gateway and head to California, and your family." He almost laughs out loud at the relieved expression on her face.
The poor girl has been waiting far too long. He feels a little guilty about making her wait the way he did, but he really did want to load up on weapons and ammo. Well, her wait is just about over.

The elevator stops smoothly on the last level and the doors slide apart, revealing a long corridor which is featureless except for several side corridors as well as a security check point next to the elevator. What is so unusual about this particular corridor is that it is corpse free. Yet another mystery that they will never figure out.

As soon as they exit the elevator, the large armored doors close and the elevator ascends to the top level of the redoubt. "Probably just an automated feature, for added security." Gitana guesses.

"Ok people, spread out and lets check each and every door we pass. We won’t bother with the side corridors, waste too much time." He gestures at four doors he can see. "Choose a door and check out the interior. If you find anything worth while, give a shout."

Maverick heads to the doorway located at the far end of the corridor, only about a dozen yards from a huge arma sec door. One by one the others announce that the doors they are checking out are locked, and the only way they could get into them would be to use plas ex, or a sec pass. The plas ex they have, but forget about the pass. Though Maverick is quite certain that if they took the time to look, at least one of the high ranking corpse will have the pass they need.

To his surprise, the door opens easily. It opens to reveal an airlock like entrance. There is a bio hazard warning sign above the entrance as well as an announcement stating that all entry forbidden to clearance of B12 or less. There are six lockers lined up inside the room as well as a bench. Maverick calls out to the others to join him.

Ged and Gitana enter and open the lockers. They contain what appear to be bio hazard suits, as well as air tanks. Maverick walks up to the second door and peers inside. "Well, looks clear. All I can see from here are some tables, lab equipment, and what appear to be a mess of cryo chambers, kinda like the one that I found you in Ged."

"Really?" The young mutant woman joins him and peers into the closed off chamber. "Wow. Think that there are any freezies in there like me?"

Maverick shakes his head. "Ged, I triple doubt that we’ll ever find a freezie like you. Hell girl, your one of a kind!"

The girl reaches for the handle to open the airlock that enters the main room. Joe grabs her arm, stopping her. "Hold up Ged. Could be live bugs in there."

She disagrees. "I don’t think so. That place looks cleaner than the entire redoubt. I doubt that there will be anything harmful inside." She points at the eight chambers lying side by side next to each other." Besides, if those chambers contain suspended people, it just doesn’t make any sense that they would release any harmful bacteria or viruses into the chamber."

"Got a point Joe." Agrees Maverick.

Joe release the mutants arm. "True enough. But think that the same bio or chem weapon that wiped everyone else may have seeped into that chamber as well?"

"Not very likely." Ged replies, her talon hovering over the open button for the airlock. "From my time with the whitecoats, I learned that research chambers like this one usually had their own air supply and were cut off from the rest of the facility. So, considering that the research chamber can only be entered via this airlock apparatus, I’d hazard a guess that the room is clean." She hits the open button and the lock slides smoothly into the wall. They enter one at a time and Ged hits the second button to open the inner door. Nothing happens.

"What the hell?" She slaps her forehead. "I forgot. The outer doorway has to be closed to open the inner door. I’ll disable the decontamination procedure."

It’s a tight fit, with the two large men and the two smaller women standing at close quarters. Maverick grinds his hips into Gitana’s supple rear, causing her to burst out in laughter. The inner door slides open and they enter the room. The four companions walk up to the eight cryo chambers. With a yelp, Ged jumps back from the chamber she looked into. "Oh my god, they’re dead."

Sure enough, all the chambers contain skeletons. "Looks like a power failure. All the read outs are black." Maverick comments, inspecting the chamber.

"Hey, these are not cryo chambers!" Ged nearly yells in surprise. "I’m not exactly sure what they are, but there is technology and equipment that I have never seen before. Take this for example," She taps a large tank embedded in the chamber wall. "This appears to be either an air supply, or possibly a tank used to hold liquids."

Maverick shrugs. "I saw similar tanks on the chamber you were inside."

Instead of responding, Ged pops open the clasps on the side of the chamber and lifts the heavy lid. A horrible stench of decay and corruption wafts out of the chamber, making everyone gag. Accompanying the horrifying stench is a splash of liquid, with the consistency of molasses. Staggering back, Ged lets the lid slam back down with a resounding crash.

Coughing, she steps back from the chamber. "That’s a nutrient fluid. I saw the whitecoats using it in experiments involving tissue regeneration. Think that who ever they had in these chambers might have been going through regeneration?"

"What the hell is regeneration?" Maverick asks. He walks from chamber to chamber, peering inside. The stench is still overpowering so he holds the sleeve of his jacket over his mouth and nose.

"It’s a process where by using certain nutrients, as well as low electrical impulses, the white coats where able to encourage regrowth of damaged tissue. I don’t know the exact nature of the procedure, but I do know that over a period of a few weeks they could re grow a lost limb, bone, nerves, muscle, and all. I even heard that they could re grow damaged or missing organs, but the patient would have to be on life support until the organ could function on it’s own."

"Ok, then if that’s the case, why are these chambers down here, instead of on the medical research level?" Gitana asks.

She shrugs. "I don’t know. Makes no sense to me. Usually on the lowest level of the redoubt is where the most secret research projects were conducted. The whitecoats figured that the deeper the level, the safer it would be from a nuclear attack. I guess they were right."

Maverick takes the mutants arm and steers her away from the chambers, back to the airlock. "Well, nothing here to see, so might as well leave. Bet you can’t wait to get home."

The mutant notices his sudden change in attitude, wanting to leave the research facility as if to prevent her from seeing something, but when he mentions home, she forgets all about it. She smiles. "Ok Brett, lets get going!"

Back in the main corridor, the sec door leading to the gateway control chamber stands like an impossible barrier to pass. To most people it is. But not to this particular group. Ged walks up to the doorway and punches in the three digit code and the multi tonned sec door slide into the ceiling as smoothly as if the door was made of paper.

"Now that is very unusual." Ged comments, taking in the sight that greets them. The room has the standard control room, but what surprises her is that there are two gateways inside the room, not one. That is very unusual, and she says as much.

"What do you think Ged?" The scarred warrior asks.

She shrugs her shoulders. "I could hazard a guess. One is probably a fixed gateway, used to jump to a specific location, while the other is used for regular traffic. Then again, I could be wrong. With the whitecoats, you never know the reason behind what they did, unless they wanted you to."

The others wander around the control chamber, trying to make sense of all the high tech equipment about them. Ged moves to a single computer terminal and begins to type in a series of codes. A few moments later, the door way to one of the two gateways opens up. "Well, it looks like that’s the one we’re going to use!"

Both Joe and Maverick peer inside the small chamber. "What now?" Joe asks.

"Just enter the chamber and sit down. The jump knocks you out, so if you’re standing, you could break something when you hit the floor." The girl slips past the two big men and plants herself on the floor opposite the door, she crosses her legs and beams at the others.

Hesitantly, Maverick enters the small chamber and sits down next to the door. He unholsters his IMI Desert eagle and places it in his lap. The rest of his weapons and gear he leans against the arma glass wall of the chamber. He notices that the walls of this chamber are a very pale blue, almost white in the color. You sure you know what you did Ged? Don’t want to wake up and find myself dead." He jokes, but underneath the attempt at humor, he is quite serious. "After all, I figured something like this would require a hell of a lot more time than it took you to set up the destination code."

The girl smiles. "Trust me Brett. Everything will be just fine."

Gitana enters next, stowing her equipment next to Maverick’s before sitting next to him. She smiles and takes his free hand, touching her lips to his knuckles. "Amante, just think, in a few minutes we will be in California! Dios, that is amazing, isn’t it?"

The scarred man simply nods. Joe enters last and places his gear on the opposite side of the door, next to Ged. He’s about to sit down when Ged stops him. "Someone has to close the door, and since you were the last one inside…"

Joe closes the door and there is an audible click. The floors and wall begin to glow almost immediately. A strange mist, or fog begins to gather in the air. Maverick is about to stand, when he discovers that he just might not have the strength to do so. Joe quickly sits down as he too, feels the effects of the jump begin.

"See ya on the other side." Maverick manages to get out, his voice thickly slurred. He isn’t sure but he thinks that Gitana squeezes his hand. Just before he slips out of consciousness, he thinks that he sees someone, or something open the entrance to the gateway. After that, blackness overwhelms him.

* * *

The elevator slids smoothly to the lowest level of the redoubt. It’s two occupants, a young woman and a cougar ride in silence. The woman can feel the big cat’s agitation at being forced to sit patiently inside such confined quarters, but can do nothing but mentally reassure her feline friend that the ride will be over in a matter of moments.

Soon enough, the elevator comes to a smooth stop and the doors slide apart. At the end of the tunnel she can see a the huge arma door is wide open and watches as Joe enters a small chamber inside the room. The door closes behind him.

That must be the gateway they were talking about, she realises. And if it is, they must be leaving! She trots down the corridor, only once looking over her shoulder to see if the large cougar is following. She is, but she is not at all happy about it, as her ears are flat against her head, and she is constantly growling from deep inside her throat.

Inside the control chamber she steps up to the gateway and peers inside. The ceiling and floor appears to be glowing, and she can just make out a fine fog or mist forming. The group inside seem to have fallen asleep. With horror, she realizes that the gateway is not a method of transportation, but is instead a trap. She grabs the door and pulls it open, ready to leap inside and grab Joe. She sends a mental image to the feline, letting it know that she needs it to grab one of the people, preferably the one of the two females, and get them out. She takes a deep breath and enters the chamber, the cougar on her heels.

She steps up to the barrel chested man and slips her hands under his armpits. Suddenly, she feels too weak to move, and she slumps to her knees. With a yowl of frustration, the cougar also slumps to the floor, unable to move. She barely has the strength to move her head, but glance at the doorway, somehow not surprised to see it closing.

Unable to fight it any longer, she succumbs to the darkness.

End of Part 2.

Return to Fiction Page.

Return to Main Page.