Chapter One: The Road to Nowhere.

Wire looked across the scarred table at Porter the University Community's

trader. He was nervous and kept flicking the beads on his abacus back and forth

augmenting Wire's headache. He knew that this was going to be one tough deal,

but he was desperate for a job. That afternoon he had traded Fat Jack, the owner

of the bar he was in, his last spare round of .357 for food and a room for the

night. This left him with a full cylinder. He shifted nervously in his chair

causing it to creak in protest.

Porter continued his pitch in a hoarse whisper. "Well you guys are going to have

to do this scav run with the co-operation of the Skins, we need to check out the

remains of a medical supply broker for any useful items that we can find, Harvey

here will serve as your guide."

Wire looked at the man in question, he was tall and lean with a battered yellow

hardhat on his head, earlier the guide had claimed to have lived in the city

before the ruin. He looked to be about fifty, two thirds older than Wire, who

had no recollection of the world before the blast.

"We are sending one of our Tech's with you to determine the value of what you

uncover in the field, you will follow his instructions." The tech was in his

late twenties, with prematurely gray hair, he was wearing a stained gray


He looks more nervous than I am, Wire thought to himself. It must be because he

really doesn't want to leave the safety of the compound. They must really need

this equipment to send one of their precious techs out.

"Why do you need to hire outside blasters for this job?" Asked the brown haired

girl with the NRA Ball cap. Wire had not seen her around until this meeting. She

was about 5'6" and built solid, like a digger. She had a Remington 1100 shotgun

that never left her side. It was a good question.

"Well, since you guys are new here, I'll fill you in on the situation. Last

month our sec force got ambushed by a road gang and wiped out, leaving us with a

skeleton crew to defend the hospital. The Ag community over at Carter High

offered to send some extra people over in exchange for free medical care, but

they suddenly went back on the deal." Porter sighed running his greasy fingers

through his black hair. He was an experienced trader in a tight spot. "We don't

have the blasters to spare to protect our people out there." He whispered. "We

have been forced to ask the Skins for protection against raiders." The tone of

his voice revealed the confidence he had in their protection.

Wire had heard of the Skins before, in fact, they ran the trade zone he was in

with an iron hand. Once a powerful road gang in their own right, they were the

first to settle into the ruins of the city once fuel began to get scarce. Their

base of operations was the city prison, which they had converted into a

formidable fortress. They were easily recognized by their bald heads and prison

garb, which they wore with pride.

"What's our cut?" Asked the thin black man on his right. He smelled faintly of

fish and the sandals made from Goodyear tires confirmed him as a fisher. He held

a battered lever action rifle and looked to be in his early twenties.

"You get 25 percent of the value of the goods brought in." Porter replied. "Ten

percent of the value of goods that are too large for you to return with and

which will require another team to recover."

"We have a public claim on all scav in this building so don't think of going

over there on your own and recovering stuff for your own use." Porter said

looking closely at each of them in turn. "So are you going to take the deal or


Wire looked at the other two scavs, they seemed reliable but new to the city.

Wire knew that this was not the best of deals, searching the ruins, guarding a

techie with an unknown guide and not being sure what the payoff was going to be.

Still he needed the work. He nodded, the others did the same.

Porter stood up and said, "Ok, let's get this over with." He walked over to the

bell by the bar and rang it loudly announcing. "The contract for the University

Community is closed, the following individuals have agreed to the communities

terms." With that he pointed to Wire who stood up and said, "I, Wire, accept

this contract." He looked around the room as all heads turned to look at him.

Most displayed little interest but there were a few who stared at him intently.

There were a couple of skins among them. He sat down quickly, unconsciously

placing his left hand on the butt of his Ruger Security Six .357 revolver. His

clothes were worn and only his combat boots were in good condition. His knife

was an oversized kitchen knife. Attached to his belt were his prize possessions,

his gun and first aid kit.

He was followed by the woman who said, "I, Beth Perkins, accept this Contract."

He got a better look at her now that she was standing and not slouching over her

glass of water, cute, jeans, combat boots, and a leather jacket over a dark

brown shirt. In addition to the shotgun, she had a cleaver strapped to her


Her announcement was followed by that of the black man. "I Ed Roberts accept

this contract." His voice was raspy. He had a faded green rain poncho which

covered heavy cloth overalls. He had a knife on his belt and a steel helmet from

the Second World War on the table in front of him. He held his rifle casually in

his right hand.

Porter returned to the table and sat down. "Ok, the deal is done and witnessed.

You leave from this compound at first light tomorrow." With that he left, taking

the techie and the guide with him. As he walked out, Porter thought to himself

that the black guy seemed to be a pretty cool customer and the girl appeared

capable enough. It was the street rat, Wire, which seemed to be the wild card.

Ed turned to the other two still at the table, "I got some business that I have

to take care of tonight, I'll see you at the gate tomorrow morning." With that

he got up and walked over to the table that was occupied by Trader Bob, one of

the most powerful men in the area. Bob's bodyguards watched him closely but did

nothing when Ed sat down across from the bearded trader.

"Well it looks like it is just you and me." Said Beth. "Have you been into these

ruins before?"

"A little, have you noticed that they have hired three bodyguards and a guide

for this run?"

"Is that a problem?" She asked.

"Well it appears to me that the University Community feels that a larger,

cheaper group has a better chance of success than an expensive two man crew."

"What to you mean?"

"Well, either they are trying to save some barter credits by hiring us or they

could not get an experienced team." Wire continued, "If I don't get some creds

soon I'm gonna starve, why are you taking the trip downtown?"

"I was a guard on Trader Bob's caravan until he found out that I lacked enough

experience. He was nice enough to allow me free escort to this town before

kicking me out of his outfit." She said, as she tugged nervously on the ponytail

that came from the back of her ball cap. Her hair reached to the middle of her

back. Wire's black hair was cut short in order to find the lice more easily, and

even though he had not had any for a while he had picked up the nervous habit of

running his fingers through his hair as if he still had them. He was doing it

now, as he watched one of the Skins that he saw earlier swaggering towards their

table. The faded blue jumpsuit he wore had Albermarle County Jail written on it.

He stood almost six feet tall about four inches taller than Wire and he had a

machete on his belt and an assault rifle slung over his shoulder.

"I got a contract you can fill right now babe." Whispered the skin as he grabbed

his crotch while sitting down at their table. Beth's hand swept down and closed

on the stock of her shotgun.

"Now is not the time amigo, I don't do charity work!" She looked over at Wire

with panic in her eyes. He wanted to be somewhere else quick but he knew that if

he was going to be able to trust her to watch his back in the morning he had to

do something now.

"The penalty for gunfire within the tradezone is naked exile, and for killing a

Skin the punishment is death." The Skin said with a confident leer as he slid

his chair closer.

"She already has a contract with me for tonight." Wire said.

"With what scruffy?" Sneered the Skin. "I saw you camped in the rain outside the

gate for two days until the free day. You don't even have the jack to pay your

way in here." The Skin placed his right arm around Beth's waist and prepared to

stand, she looked around nervously.

Trader Bob was watching the table closely. He was already pissed off at being

unable to trade directly at the University Communities compound, instead having

to come to the new trade zone located near the center of the ruins. It had cost

more to get there and now the goods he was allowed to trade for were restricted.

No firearms and no communications gear could be traded to the community. This

cut down on the options available to him. He had agreed to the terms at present

since Dean Barrows the leader of the University had insisted. He decided to step


"Who is disturbing one of my people?" He said in a deep voice. Everyone turned

to look at Bob.

"I don't see your mark on her." The flustered Skin said.

"Do you doubt my word?" Bob asked reasonably, his four bodyguards were now

standing with their weapons ready.

"You can't break the law here in the zone, no shooting or you suffer loss of

your goods."

"You and your nine buddies gonna enforce that law? I got over twenty trained

blasters with me, not to mention Elsie." Elsie was Bob's Abraham's M1A2 main

battle tank. It traveled with Bob on its own carrier. "It will probably take

about two hours for reinforcements to make it from the prison if they bother to

come in the dark, by that time this place will be a smoking hole." Bob stared at

the man and he knew the truth of his words. "If you wanna keep the peace, you

had better enforce it out of my sight."

"I can get better pork back at the Hole anyway!" Said the Skin as he got up and

walked out. He was followed by his buddy.

"Thanks Bob!" Beth said as she got up and headed to her room upstairs. Wire

followed her up to go to his own pallet in the common room; he would need all

the rest he could get tomorrow.

The next morning Wire met Ed and Beth downstairs. Each was wearing the same

equipment from the previous night and had a backpack on. Ed had on a new pair of

combat boots instead of his tire sandals. He had made a deal with Trader Bob

last night. The three scavs walked out the door and into the courtyard of the

trade zone. The zone itself comprised an entire city block. There were a total

of ten buildings located around a central parking lot, which had been

subsequently dug up and turned into an open air fair. Stacking cars and rubble

to a height of twenty feet had blocked all the street outlets except the two to

the south. The two southern exits were double portcullised. Four men patrolled

the top of each building and had one balista, which could hurl a rock or a

flaming bottle of juice several hundred yards. At present the majority of the

fair area was taken up by Trader Bob's convoy, easily recognized by the Wheel

symbol and of course Elsie the tank. As they walked past, Beth was approached by

one of the convoy guards who said. "Watch your back the guy from last night has

already left the zone to head back to the prison. He could be anywhere."

As they approached the southwestern exit they saw Porter and the others looking

up at the sky. Dawn was beautiful with the fluorescent colors of the

radiation-tinted sky shimmering in the increasing light of the sun. It would be

a clear day, at least to start and the possibility of a chem storm or rad rain

seemed remote. This relieved Wire since he owned no rain gear.

"I won't take point, that is what you blasters have been hired for!" Harvey said

nervously. "If I get chilled you won't make it to your destination." The Tech,

whose name was Davis said, "Well I am not going to go up front, I gotta make it

there and back or you won't get paid." Wire doubted that was entirely true, if

they returned without the tech they would loose most of their profit but they

would still get something, still if anyone had to make it back, other than

himself of course, then it would have to be Davis.

"Fine" Ed said, "I don't trust any of you to do a good enough job, I will take

point. Beth you will follow Harvey, who will whisper the directions. Davis next,

and Wire you got the backdoor." Wire certainly did not want point so he did not

argue the issue.

The first portcullis was raised and the group passed under it in single file.

Once they had all entered the passageway, wide enough for two cars to move

through at the same time, the first gate was lowered. The Skin guards at the

gate watched them closely. One of them spit halfheartedly at Beth but it missed,

she pretended not to notice. After a moment the second gate at the end of the

passage was raised and the group filed out, cocked and locked and ready to roll,

Harvey carrying a crossbow, Davis had a spear. They turned east on what remained

of route 24. The road had been cleared to the west well enough to allow vehicle

traffic. To the east they could see that while at some time in the past many of

the cars had been shoved aside, no clear path had been made, they knew that as

they moved further east the rubble and danger would increase exponentially.

The scav party had been traveling for about an hour when they came across their

first fresh body. This one was wedged in the rusted remains of one of the cars

along their route. Ed had raised his hand to shoulder level to signal a stop and

had whispered what he had seen to the others. Wire's first thought had been of

an ambush and he looked wildly around at the windows surrounding them but no

shots were fired. He had fallen into the habit, as slack man, of turning around

and looking back in the direction they had come on a regular basis, especially

when they came to corners. He made a point of memorizing each of the turns as it

would look on the way back. After being assured that they were not currently

under attack and that he could flee with confidence, he crept forward to peer

into the wrecked car.

From his angle Wire could see the lower half of the corpse. It was that of a

young man. He had been stripped naked. "Shit!" Exclaimed Beth from the other

side of the car. "He's got no face!" Wire leaned over a bit further so he could

see more fully into the car and saw that the corpse had been mutilated. Someone

had taken a knife and skinned the body from the neck up, leaving bits of flesh

and the skull. The smell of rotting flesh was strong but the rats had not

discovered the corpse yet, although from the sounds he heard in the rubble

behind him that would not remain the case for long.

"I suppose this sounds like a stupid question, but does anyone recognize him?"

asked Davis from about fifteen feet away. Wire broke into uncontrolled laughter.

He had always had an odd reaction to death. Any sudden suprise caused him to

giggle, in truly stressful situations he could not help grinning. He had thought

about it a lot when he was little. His Pa had said that it was just his body's

way of dealing with shock and not to worry about it. He knew that it bothered

others, however.

Beth let out a short giggle from the other side of the car. "Sharp knife"

observed Ed, laconically.

"Wasn't done here either." said Beth.

"We better get moving, fast" Wire said looking over to his left at the pile of

rubble that was now positively quaking as the rat swarm moved closer to the

group. Already a few brave scout rats were within a few yards of the car. The

group quickly moved away from the car and as they rounded a corner Wire looked

back and saw a dark shadow envelop the corpse. He knew that there would be

nothing but slightly pink polished bones in the car on their way back.

After their encounter with the corpse the group's movement had become more

difficult, moving along in spurts of activity followed by long delays at

intersections. Some of this was to be expected, especially when they moved

through burn zones. Areas where entire city blocks had burned until there was

nothing but rubble, sometimes it was easier to enter these ruins and move

through the remains than it was to force their way over the wreckage of

buildings which had collapsed into the street. Even from the back of the line,

however, Wire could see that all was not well at the front.

"Fuck! Will you make up your mind, what kind of a guide are you anyway? Ed

ranted after a particularly nerve racking halt.

"Well the city has changed a lot since I was last here!" Retorted Harvey


"I am not sure that you know where we are and it has taken us nearly half the

day to get this far. I don't want to be out here all night!" Ed was right, Wire

knew that only the most experienced and well-equipped groups could expect to

pass a night in the ruins safely.

"Look, both of you be quiet, you are going to attract attention." Beth continued

more quietly, "Let's take a break and eat, this will give us the chance to calm

down and give Harvey a chance to get his bearings." She pointed to the remains

of a townhouse whose front door had been kicked in some time in the past. "This

looks like a good place to hole up for a little while." It only took a moment

for the rest of the group to file into the remains of the house after her.

There was a short entryhall that ended in another door that had also been

smashed in. They sat down in a rough circle with Ed facing into the house and

Wire looking cautiously out the doorway and onto the street.

"What was the city like before the Ruin?" Asked Beth.

"I was a network engineer at the local hospital. It was a good job, I was just

starting out of college." Harvey said. "It was a fair sized city of about 100

thousand people. We were not a direct target, but about a third of the

population died in the fallout. Mostly because we were without power almost from

the start, people had to go out of their shelters to look for water. Still we

had begun cleaning out the streets and putting things in order when the refugees

from Richmond and DC began to arrive. At first they came in small groups and

were relatively healthy. Then the plague came."

Everyone was listening now. "I was at the hospital trying to rig some sort of

system back together after the EMP fried our computer system when the first

cases came in." He let out a long sigh. "We didn't know it at the time, but some

of the refugees had what we now call rotter's disase. It spread fast killing

most of the doctors. We had to close the hospital, the sick piled up outside

until those that were healthy enough forced their way in, there was fighting. My

last memory of the hospital was of a mob hanging some nurses they had caught. I

understand that the rotters still inhabit what is left of the hospital." They

finished eating in silence.

"I think we are within a few blocks of where we need to be. If we find what we

need fast we should be able to make it back by dusk." Harvey said.

They found the building about half an hour later. It was three stories tall and

was painted white. The outer walls were made from cinderblocks and the sign

painted at the top said PHARCO Inc. on it. Most of the windows on the first

floor were shattered, and there were smoke stains visible on the outer wall to

the left of the door. Someone had camped inside the building at some time in the


"Anyone got a plan on how to do the building?" Asked Davis.

"Shit, don't you know what to look for?" Responded Beth.

"I do, but if we wanna get home by dark we're gonna have to do this fast, just

come get me if you find anything unusual."

"Ok, how about Ed and Davis searching one side of the building while Beth and I

do the other." Suggested Wire.

"What am I gonna do?" Asked Harvey, "Sit on my ass?"

"Sit on your ass and watch the door." answered Ed.

The group entered quickly and began their search. Wire and Beth moved quickly

through the first floor, it had been repeatedly scavenged. On the second floor

things looked a little better. There were a series of cubes with desks and old

computers. Someone had smashed each one with a large hammer some time ago.

Rummaging through the desks revealed several pens and two packets of xerox

paper. Someone had taken the Xerox machine apart. The search was becoming

routine when they triggered the Skin ambush.

Wire had just just entered a conference room when they heard the door burst open

in the hallway behind them. Beth turned quickly flipping the safety off her

shotgun. Wire looked back down the hallway using the door frame as cover and

drawing his knife. Two men were charging down the short hallway towards Beth.

Their shaven heads shone in the feeble light. The first man was tall and lean,

with a pump action shotgun slung over his shoulder and a large black pipe in his

hands. He aimed what appeared to be a huge zip gun at Beth and fired at her.

There was a muffled thump and something crashed into Beth striking her in the

shoulder instead of the head as she turned. The impact knocked her back into the

room past Wire. The man yelled to his partner over his shoulder, "Hey Craver I

got me a woman!"

Wire jumped into the hallway as the man swung his pipe at him. Beth struggled to

pick herself up, amazed that she was not dead. She looked down on the floor and

saw a small bag that was filled with sand. She watched as Wire rotated his blade

under and around the pipe as it came towards him, cutting off three of his

attackers fingers. The pipe and the fingers hit the opposite wall with a

clatter. Without pausing Wire moved closer to his shocked enemy and slashed his

throat open on the return stroke. He continued advancing, driving his shoulder

into the chest of the man in front of him causing the mortally wounded Skin to

crash into his partner. He slashed wildly at the second man but his blow was

deflected easily by the body armor that the man wore. It was made from pieces of

metal and old tires. Wire quickly retreated back into the conference room. As he

entered he noticed that Beth had crawled over to the corner of the room and was

trying to get her breath back and lift her shotgun at the same time.

"You killed my buddy Red." The large armored man said as he hefted a sledge

hammer. "I'm gonna smash you for that." Wire knew he was outclassed with his

knife and hurriedly switched hands so he could draw his pistol. Before he could

draw, his opponent charged, swinging the hammer with both hands. Wire jumped out

of the way of the hammer but was knocked off his feet when the man kept coming,

knocking the knife out of his hand. He used the momentum he gained from the

impact to roll under the conference table. Before he could draw his pistol, he

heard the roar of Beth's shotgun. The blast struck Craver in the back blowing

him foreward off his feet. While his armor provided good protection in a street

fight it was no defence against a round of 12 gague 00 buck delivered at point

blank range. Blood spurted out of the holes in the stop sign which had served as

a backplate as his corpse hit the ground.

"Are you ok?" Wire said as he climbed out from under the table. "I gotta get a

bigger knife, this one sucks!" He said picking up his kitchen knife with a


Beth was too busy reloading her gun to give Wire more than a quick nod.

"I don't think that these guys were here by accident." Wire said,as he crouched

down to examine the corpses.

Beth walked to the doorway and looked back down the hall, "I don't see any more,

but I wonder where they came from, we didn't pass them, do you think they got by


"Too bad for Harvey if that was the case, either he let them in or they got in

over him.....ooh look at what I found on your guy." Wire held up a Walther PPK auto pistol, upon checking he found that it had a full clip. He

tossed it to Beth who shoved it in her belt.

"I got dibs on the shotgun that the other guy had though." Wire said as he

walked over towards the corpse in the hall. This one held five rounds and there

were three more hanging from its shoulder strap. He also found two more of the

sacks that had struck Beth. He shoved the tube, which was two feet long and

three inches wide, into his pack after reloading it. The stock of the weapon

stuck about six inches over his shoulder.

"You would think that the shot would have gotten the attention of Ed and Davis,

they should be here by now." Beth said, squinting down the hall in an attempt to

see farther. "You know the penalty for killing a Skin is death in the trade


"Well we aren't there now, still it may be a good idea not to return there

anyway. Lets see if the others are ok, this place has been picked clean." Wire

said, taking the lead and moving down the hall.

They reached the first floor landing without incident.

"Stay here for a sec while I scout ahead." Wire whispered. He moved out of

Beth's sight without a sound. While she sat there in the dark, Beth thought

about her situation. Someone must have sold them out, but who? Certainly not one

of the scavs since none of them had known where they were going until they got

there. Still, how had the skin's followed them? Had Wire left a trail for them

or did their guide Harvey betray them to the Skins for credits? She heard

someone approaching quietly from behind her, she whirled around raising her gun

but saw no one. "Shit, must be nerves." she muttered to herself. A moment later

she heard Wire whisper, "its me, don't shoot." He came down the stairs towards

her with his hands held up.

"I found a hallway on the third floor that cut across towards where we were,

that is how I came up behind you." He explained. Beth kept her gun on him. "It

wasn't me, I swear." Wire said earnestly. "I didn't see Harvey at the front door

and I couldn't find Ed and Davis either."

"If there were more it won't be long before they come looking for their

buddies." Beth said. "Did you see anything unusual?"

Wire looked at her with anger, "I think I would have reported it if I did!"

"Let's go back to where Harvey was maybe I can see something worth while." With

that Beth walked down the stairs.

When they reached the doorway, Beth looked closely on the ground. "Someone was

dragged from here and whoever did the dragging came from inside. It looks like

others came in after." As they stood there looking at the tracks Davis came

around the right outside corner of the building. He seemed surprised to see them

standing there.

"Where is Harvey?" Asked Beth.

"He is with Ed, we were attacked from behind but were able to fight them off. We

are over there." He said pointing back behind himself. "I see you handled the

two guys that came after you."

"Don't kill him!" shouted Beth as Wire aimed his shotgun at the tech who had

turned and begun running back the way he came. She raced after the man and was

only a few steps behind him when she came to the corner of the building and

doubled over suddenly. A tall skin wearing police riot armor and carrying an

assault rifle came around the corner. He had struck Beth in the gut with the

butt of the gun as she charged after Davis. Two others followed him. Wire pulled

the trigger aiming at the new threat. The .OO shot struck the brick wall about

four feet in front of the first man spraying his face with stone fragments. He

reeled back, blocking any return fire from those behind him as Wire dove back

into the building. He crouched there in the doorway and slid a replacement round

into the gun. He listened intently.

"I gotta go see Dub-Dub." A muffled voice wheezed. "You two handle this, Someone

pick up this hole, but remember I get first crack at her."

Wire snuck back towards the two men following the first floor wall. He paused

and listened again. "Shit, Im not gonna go through that door first." said one,

as Wire crouched by the shattered window.

"Hey, how about I boost you up through this window and you can come at him from

behind!" the other one replied. Inside the windows began at waist height,

outside they were a little over six feet off the ground. Wire held his breath as

the first man looked inside briefly. "I can't see him, lets do it." He waited

paitently as two gloved hands rested on the sill of his window. After a moment

there was a grunt as the second man boosted the fist into the sights of Wire's

shotgun. The full blast of the gun tore the man's head from his shoulders. It

spun crazily in the air spraying blood in a large arc. The corpse fell on the

second man making him an easy target for the second shot.

Wire jumped out of the same window and ran across the street and hid in the

burnt out shell of a seven-eleven. Looking out the window he could see around

the corner of the PHARCO building. There was no one there.

Beth was thankful that Wire had wounded Mogwa the leader of the Skin ambush

team. He displayed more interest in getting the team medic to patch up his

ravaged face than in her. He had ordered to the rest of the men to leave her

untouched after they had disarmed her. They had not found the .22 auto that she

had tucked into her belt. When she had fallen it had gotten paused all the way

down the front of her pants and her captors had not patted her down there when

she was captured for fear of angering their commander. Her hands were tied

behind her with some sort of plastic manacles that cut into her wrists

painfully. There were three skins left from the original party of seven. Mogwa

had been very angry when the last two men had not returned. Upon her capture the

group had moved north at a quick pace. Davis walked along next to her.

"Why did you betray us?" Whispered Beth.

"The University community is done for anyway, I wanted to get on the winning

side early enough to get something good out of it. The comittee would not let me

out without the promise of good loot to balance the risk so I created a supply

of equipment that would be good for the group."

"You are saying that we came out here for nothing!"

"Nope, you came out here to deliver me to the Skins. I should thank you for

getting captured alive, without you as booty I would not be in such an enviable

position upon arrival at my new home." Davis said relaxing as they passed

another block which brought them closer to the prison.

"You know, once Mogwa is done with you I could put in a claim for you to keep

you out of the Hole a while longer." He leered.

"The Hole?"

"All women taken by the gang are made community property and kept together in

one of the cellblocks. When a warrior does a particularly good job he is

rewarded with a pass there, he can do as he likes with the women. If they fail

to please him they are punished, if they harm him or try to escape they are

killed and fed to the others as a warning. There are about a hundred men in the

gang and they only have about a dozen women at any one time, needless to say

they are pretty busy." He said wiggling his tongue at her in an obscene manner.

Beth felt her legs go wobbly with fear. She almost panicked and ran away from

the group but she knew that they would catch her within a few paces and then

they might not be as gentle the second time.

"What happened to Harvey?" She asked.

"I killed him. I told Ed that I had to check on something with the guide and

that I would be right back. I hit him in the head with a piece of pipe."

"What did you do to Ed?"

"Me, nothing, I guess that Craver and Red killed him before they tangled with

you. After I took out Harvey, the Skins arrived and I sent them after Ed since

he was alone."

"What did you do with the body?"

"It should still be there inside the doorway, didn't you see it when you got to

the front door?" Davis said nervously.

Wire had been tracking the group with little success for about an hour. He was

sure that he could find his way back but it was getting dark. He had thought for

a long time about going back but he knew that he would not make it to the

tradezone before nightfall and that meant spending the night alone in the ruins.

Ed was pacing the Skin group, paralleling them as they moved along the main

road. He had followed Davis down the stairs and seen him strike Harvey. When the

Skins entered the building he had hidden on the first floor and listened. When

Davis and the rest had moved outside the building and around the corner he had

grabbed Harvey and dragged him out the door and down the street in the other

direction, ultimately hiding him in the same building they had eaten lunch in.

Amazingly Harvey was still alive. The old guide had regained consciousness

before he had left to help Beth and Wire. He had been a block away and had seen

Beth captured, but because of the interposing buildings he never saw Wire. When

he heard two shotgun blasts soon afterward he assumed that they had killed the

scav. Ed decided that he would try to kill the girl and as many of the Skins as

possible before they got back to their base. In doing so he would get some

measure of revenge and spare Beth the hell that would come to her once she was

placed in the Hole. He still remembered the stories his father had told to his

sisters about the Hole in order to scare them into behaving.

He stopped and watched the group as they entered the next intersection.

"Shit" he muttered as he saw that the next turn would take them towards his

position. He quickly jogged back the way he came and halted at the next corner

and waited for the Skins and their captive to come into view.

Figuring that there would not be a better opportunity he waited for the group to

reach the middle of the intersection in front of him. Ed lay carefully on the

ground and aimed his rifle down the street. He would kill Davis first.

Beth was still speaking with Davis as they turned the corner. She had decided

that she would make a break for it as soon as she got a chance. Davis held the

rope in both of his hands and would occasionally tug it hard to make sure she

was paying attention to him as he babbled about his new future with the Skins.

"Yeah I'll have my pick of the women soon as I get their radio system running at

peak efficiency. Maybe I'll make you...." Davis never finished the sentence.

Beth's eyes widened in surprise as Davis' head exploded with a wet pop. A loud

boom followed almost immediately. She turned to run but was pulled off her feet

as the slack in the rope disappeared. Davis had the rope in a death grip. The

rest of the Skins broke for cover.

Ed slid behind the corner of the building and levered another round into the


After a moment he peeked out. The street was deserted except for Beth and the


"You stay here and use the girl as bait." Mogwa said to Dub-Dub. "If she runs

shoot her." He said loud enough for Beth to hear.

"Jasper and I are going to flank that sniper." Mogwa turned to Jasper, "Ok, run

across the street and work your way down the other side of the building." Jasper

looked like he wanted to say something but after looking at the assault rifle

pointed at him thought better of it.

Jasper was thin with the wisps of a beard around his face. He hitched up his

poorly fitting fatigue pants and clutching his revolver sprinted for the

opposite building.

This was the sign that Ed was waiting for. He had a good bead on the running man

and was squeezing the trigger when the thin man stumbled, tripped by the rope

Beth held. His shot missed. The man reached the safety of the building.

A few blocks to the north Wire heard the gunshots and headed in their direction

at a trot.

Ed had turned to run south down the street when the pavement next to him

disintegrated in a hail of auto fire. He looked to his east and saw a man in

police riot armor with an assault rifle across the street.

"If you drop your gun now, I will let you live." the man said. Ed squeezed as

much of his body behind the corner, the corner of the building temporarily

protected him but a few steps on his part or that of the skin would put him in

the open. If it was almost any other weapon he would have chanced it and run for

it. He knew that the Skins' partner would be working his way down the other side

of the building any second trapping him completely.

Jasper turned around after reaching the safety of the other side of the

building. "I'll fix you bitch!" He hissed.

"Shut up you idiot, she probably saved your life tripping you!"Dub Dub said,

cradling Beth's shotgun in his arms.

Beth was facing north watching both of them, as she switched her view back to

Jasper she caught some movement out of the corner of her eye. Wire was sneaking

towards her. He was about twenty yards away and due to the rubble littering the

street, invisible to the two men. She carefully began to undo the buttons on her

pants, hoping to be able to grab the gun unnoticed.

"What do you think you are doing bitch?" Dub Dub said as he saw her hands in her


"I gotta pee, you have been dragging me around all day and I can't take it any

more."Beth said, thinking quickly.

This brought Jasper back around the corner. "I gotta see this!" he said with a


"You better go support Mogwa!"

"I heard some shots, if he can't handle it then he doesn't deserve to be a team

leader." Jasper said, nervously looking at Beth's back. Still it would be better

to have to deal with a happy Mogwa than a mad one, he thought to himself as he

turned around again to head back towards the sniper. As he turned he saw a man

with a shotgun to the north. They noticed each other at the same time. Jasper

was still struggling to swing his gun onto target as the slug passed through his

forearm breaking his ulna and radius and smashing his hip. He collapsed to the

ground with a gurgle.

Beth had almost succeeded in getting her hands on the gun when the firefight

resumed. She flopped forward onto her stomach as her hand closed on the butt of

the small auto pistol.

Mogwa turned when he heard the shot and saw the man who had nearly blown his

face off earlier kill another one of his men. He squeezed off a three round

burst towards him as he jumped back around the corner of his building.

Hardly able to believe his luck, Ed sped around the corner and ran north around

the building.

The bullets whistled over Beth's head and slammed into the remains of a car on

Wire's right. He dove for cover as DubDub fired at him. The shot patterned the

same car. He was about to fire again when he heard Beth say, "Place my shotgun

gently on the ground." The bitch was holding a gun on him, admittedly a small

one. Amazed he did as she said. At the same moment a black man came around the

corner holding a rifle.

"Let my man go or the girl dies!" Mogwa yelled towards the group to his north.

He had her in his sights. "DubDub, get walking before they do something stupid!"

"Go slow or you die," Beth said, "Shoot him if he moves to fast Ed." Beth stood

up slowly and getting a firm grip on the rope began to drag the corpse with her

as she moved towards the safety of the building on her right.

"I'm gonna kill him as soon as you get clear." Ed whispered, never taking his

sights off the man walking nervously down the street.

Mogwa was about to shoot the woman when he saw the glint of the setting sun on

the barrel of the black man's rifle, after seeing what he did to Davis, however,

he did not doubt that DubDub would be dead before the girl hit the ground. He

could not afford to loose any more people from his team. His position as leader

was probably gone, but he did not want to be exiled from the Skins, as he surely

would be returning alone.

DubDub was walking backwards down the street, he had a mortal fear of being shot

in the back, not that he felt that being shot in the front was any better, but

he did not want to be surprised by death. He was about halfway down the length

of the block when he saw the girl stoop down and pick up Davis in a fireman's

carry. As soon as she had the body firmly on her shoulder she ran for the safety

of the building on her right. DubDub turned to run down the street. He was not

fast enough. Ed's bullet caught him just over his right hip. The impact spun him

around, breaking his left leg. He collapsed with a groan.

Mogwa watched this helplessly. As the girl had fled she had passed behind DubDub

and then to safety. With a curse he turned and ran west.

"Shit, now I really gotta pee!" Beth said dropping the corpse on the ground and

looking for a suitable spot in the rubble. Like a ghost Wire appeared out of the

ruins in front of her. He cut the rope holding her hands together with his knife

and walked over to where Ed was calmly reloading his rifle.

"Think he has had enough?" Wire asked Ed.

"Probably, we should move a couple of blocks away from his last known position

though. You want the scav off this guy?" Ed kicked the corpse of Jasper with his

new boot.

"Sure," said Wire as he crouched down and began to search the corpse. He found

twelve rounds of .357 and another six of .38. The knife that the unfortunate

Skin had was in worse shape than Wire's. Finally, Wire pried the pistol from the

corpses grip it was a battered Ruger GP 100. He carefully rolled the corpse over

and stripped off the shoulder holster and slid the gun into it. He was still

trying to figure out how to put the rig on when Beth walked over, "here, it goes

like this." she said sliding his arm into one of the loops and then clipping

another strap to his belt.

"That fuck DubDub has still got my knife." Beth said, "I'm gonna go get it."

"Fine, I'll cover you, but anything that is his belongs to me." Ed said.

Checking the load in her shotgun, Beth shuffled out towards the injured Skin. He

was still alive. He stared at her with scared eyes. "Let me take care of that

for you." Beth said as she crouched next to him and unbuckled her knife from his

belt. She unsheathed her blade and inspected the edge for damage.

"Where are my spare shells?"

"In my pack." he wheezed.

Beth gently eased his arms out from the straps of the dingy gray backpack; once

it was free she let go of the raider and stood up.

"Oh look, doggies." She said with a grin as she turned and walked away from the

stricken man.

Attracted by the sound of gunfire and the scent of blood the dog pack numbered

about fifteen animals. They were about thirty feet away from her when she began

to walk away. By the time she had rejoined her friends they had surrounded the

wounded man. He did not put up much of a struggle.

"Everything in the pack except my shotgun shells is yours." Beth said tossing Ed

the backpack.

Turning the mouth of the bag towards himself so that the others could not see

in, he unlaced it and looked inside. After a moment of rummaging around he

pulled out two battered boxes of shotgun shells and tossed them to Beth. She

caught them deftly and put them in her own pack.

"I think we can make it back to Harvey before it gets dark." Ed said. Both Beth

and Wire looked at him in surprise.

"He's alive?" Wire laughed.

"Once we get back to him we had better figure out what to do next." Beth said.

With that said the small band fell into skirmish mode and headed back towards

Harvey's location, leaving behind the dogs to feast on the dead in peace.

Chapter II the alliance


The trio made the trip back to the building where Harvey was hidden without incident, despite the fact that the last half hour had been a march through the dark. Wire was amazed by Ed's sense of direction. When they reached the old scav they found him resting on the second floor.


"While you guys were out running around, I was planning for our future." Harvey whispered. His head was still pounding and he insisted that everyone keep the noise down below their normally cautious level.


Beth was too tired to take an active role in the discussion and slumped down with her back to the wall in the old living room they were holed up in. The day had been one of the most stressful she had ever had. "I would like to thank you two for helping me out there today." She said and promptly went to sleep.


"What happened", whispered Harvey.


Ed told the majority of the story, with Wire adding additional comments. Both had questioned Beth extensively on the way back and had a good grasp of the total story.


"Well that confirms my suspicions." Harvey said, once the story was finished. "We have got to get out of town."


"No shit." Ed commented as he cleaned his gun.


"The four of us are going to have a rough time of it without help, like a caravan job" Wire said, looking over at the sleeping Beth.


"Where did you learn to fight like that." Harvey said.


Wire thought a bit before responding. He liked these people and he would be travelling with them for a while. He decided to tell them a chunk of the truth.

      "I was raised in a Mercie regiment. It was formed a few years after the war. A bunch of soldiers under a captain named Hayes were assigned to guard a military base in the mountains. They survived for the first years in underground bunkers, their commander, General Edgerton had ordered them to follow him through some sort of gateway inside the base after they had stripped it of all useful materials. Hayes had watched the destruction of his world from the safety of the bunker and wanted to help those outside. He disobeyed orders, disabled the gateway, rallied his men and left the base."

      "Do you mean you were raised by the Harriers?" Harvey asked.

      "Yeah, I was" Wire said. "They became a mercenary company for hire, working over most of the east coast. My father had three sons. I was the youngest and least disciplined. I argued with the old man and was exiled a year ago. My term out is up and I was looking for the unit when I reached Jefferson City."

      "Who are the Harriers?" Ed said.

Before Wire could answer, Harvey spoke up. "They were one of the toughest and most reliable mercie companies on the east coast. I saw forty of them defend a ville from raiders about ten years ago near Richmond. Last I heard they were headed north of the Washington Hole, towards Nuked York."

      "She has a contact with Trader Bob." Wire said, changing the subject.

      "No contract there," Beth said sleepily, she had been half listening to the conversation. "Maybe if we pay to be passengers, but he is not due to leave for another week."

      "I don't know anyone around here, I lost my boat a few weeks ago on the Rivanna river." Ed whispered, his eyes were far away.

      "I think I got an idea, you will have to trust me, but I can get us out of the area." Harvey said.

      "I got first watch." Wire said.

      "I'll go next." Ed followed.

      "Wake me when it's time...." Beth mumbled.


Mogwa was more scared than he had ever been. He had made it back to the prison safely, but he was not sure that was good news. His mission had been a total failure. He was standing in what used to be the warden's office, now it was Black Charlie's, the Skin leaders. Charlie had not moved a muscle the entire time that Mogwa had been relating his report. It was not a good sign. For a second, he thought of killing Charlie and avoiding the beating he was going to get, after all Charlie didn't have any bodyguards. His daydream was interrupted by searing pain. Charlie did not need bodyguards. He had moved so fast that Mogwa did not even see it. The club, made from a prison bar, jabbed him in the throat, he heard his own cartilidge crack under the blow. The rest of the beating was a blur.


   Wire awoke to the smell of dried jerky. Beth was gnawing on a strip with relish. She tossed him a piece with a grin.


      "Deer, wow.........good...." Wire said between gnaws. He felt good, it was nice to sleep with someone else on guard.

      "Now that we are all up, I'll tell you my plan." Harvey said. "The information we gleaned from our trip is worth some jack, and it might be enough to get us a chance. If we can make it to the Ag community north of here we should be able to trade it for some equipment and a message."

      "A message to who." Ed grunted.

      "I think I can work an angle with the University community."

      "Are you nuts!" Beth exclaimed, "We got one of their guys killed."

      "There is more going on there than you think." Harvey hissed. "There are factions that want to fight the Skins there as well. To them we are heroes."

      "Try your angle, I don't want to know what kind of bounty the Skins are going to put on our heads." Said Wire.

      After some more discussion they decided to head for the Ag community and try their chances with Harvey's plan. Once again Ed took point with Harvey whispering instructions. Wire was the slack man.

      'This isn't to bad a job.' Wire thought to himself as he looked at Beth's ass as they moved through the rubble. They were moving through a section of highway. Rusted cars stretched in four lanes heading north, traffic was bumper to bumper. Most cars had been scavved out, but the skellies were still inside many. His senses clicked to full alert a moment later when he heard a burst of harsh music.

      Ed signalled a halt with his hand. From his position he could see a small encampment of people, there seemed to be about a dozen and from the glint off their shaven heads he could tell they were skins. It looked like the camp was getting ready to move. They were about a quarter mile away.

      "Shoot, they got that boom box blasting, Metallica, I think." Harvey said.

      "Do we have a way around them?" Beth asked.

      "Yeah I got a work around figured out. If we cut through that parking garage we should be able to move past them without being seen." Harvey said.

      "We better hurry." Wire whispered, "the music woke up a pack of dogs."

      The dogs were trotting out of the burnt out shell of a gas station. It did not appear that they had been noticed.

      The group slipped off the highway and onto the road that lead to the parking garage. They moved at a slow pace until they were about a hundred yards from the dog pack, then they began to increase their speed. The garage was three stories and despite the fact that the sides were exposed it was somewhat dark inside. They shuffled between the rows of cars looking for the exit on the other side of the building.

      A quiet whine was the only warning they had that the dog pack had followed them inside.

      "No guns," Harvey hissed as the attack began.

      Wire spun around quickly causing the mastiff springing at him to crash into the car. It made a metallic thump on impact. That noise was followed by the crunching of its skull when the butt of his shotgun struck it on the back of its neck.

      Beth kicked one in the side as it rushed past her, but another gripped the shotgun’s sling in it’s mouth and tugged her off balance. As she fell, Beth drew the cleaver from its sheath on her thigh. Two dogs rushed her in a heartbeat. She swung clumsily at the first one, off balance because she had not let go of the shotgun and neither had the first dog. One of the dogs bit her combat boot as she shoved it into its face and began to drag her in the other direction. The second moved to attack her belly.

      A large piece of rubble hit it square between the eyes, hurled by Harvey. Two large dogs raced up to him growling menacingly. Harvey dropped and rolled under a 4x4 truck temporarily avoiding the dogs. The break was all Beth needed. Her cleaver swept past the dog's muzzle in a blur. There was a crackling sound as the entire muzzle fell to the ground. For a second the dogs tongue lolled out of the remains of its savaged face, then it too slid to the ground with a plop, leaving the dog shuddering uncontrollably.

      Ed had backed up to a pylon in the middle of the combat zone and was surrounded by three dogs. He was able to keep them off him for now but was kept too busy by the group to get any good blows in.

      Beth rotated her position on the ground, catching the dog gnawing uselessly on her combat boot off guard. Its incisors locked on one of the treads. She rolled into a crouch with the dog's jaw pinned between her boot and the floor. A stroke of the cleaver gutted it.

      Another dog leapt at Wire who got his right arm under its jaws, he could feel and smell its hot breath. Dropping his gun he reached down and seized the dog's testicles and pulled. The dog flipped off him in a blur, Wire followed it up and kicking the dog in the stomach, with a strangled whine the dog collapsed.

      With that the pack lost heart and fled the garage as suddenly as they had come. The group quickly collected its gear and left the area, heading in their original direction. Leaving the dog that Beth had maimed still standing, trembling, before the bloody wreck that had been its muzzle. 


      Mogwa woke in the courtyard of the prison. He had been stripped of his armor. His whole body was one big bruise and he could tell that he had lost some teeth. The whole tribe had gathered in the courtyard. As he rolled into a sitting position he heard Black Charlie begin to speak.

      "This man failed us, failed his team, and failed himself."

      The crowd roared.

      "He has been stripped of his position and his equipment."

      The crowd roared louder.

      "He has one week to redeem himself and his position, by returning with the heads of Harvey Campbell, Beth Perkins, Wire and Ed Roberts."

      Mogwa heard the gates to the prison opening, and he began to stumble in their direction.

      "If he fails to return in a week," Black Charlie continued, "his goods and position fall to the first man who returns with either his skull or those who killed our brothers."

      The crowd thundered its approval. Rocks, bits of glass, and dirt were thrown at Mogwa as he stumbled out the prison gates and into exile.


The Group approached the Carter High school Agricultural community cautiously.

      “Let me do the talking.” Harvey whispered as they approached the gate.

      The gate consisted of two cement block bunkers that were twenty feet high. On the top of both were huge ballistae crewed by two men each. There were another two men standing by the gate proper. It was a double portcullis of steel rods and razor wire. The entire community was fenced in by a twelve foot high chain link fence topped by barbed wire, each corner had its own tower and ballista.

      “That is as far as you are going strangers!” One of the guards said.

      Harvey responded, “We are looking for Mary, its Harvey.”

There was a pause as the gate opened and one of the guards came out cautiously. He was wearing armor made from tires and scraps of metal. It was a well constructed suit, with the metal bits painted a flat gray color. We was armed with a double barreled shotgun.

      “Didn’t recognize you without that yellow hard hat Harvey.” The guard mumbled. “Do you vouch for those with you?”

      “I do.” Harvey replied firmly.

      “Wait here a sec while we send a message.”

The guard returned to the shack and climbed to the top where a signal mirror was affixed to a pole. After a few minuites he climbed back down.

      “Mary will meet you at the front door, you have ten minuites to get there.”

      As they set out for the main school building at a fast walk, Wire looked at the large fields of corn and wheat that lined the road. He could hear the sound of cattle and chickens in the distance as well as the shouting of children as they herded them back towards the school. Harvey caught his attention immediately when he began to speak.

      “Things sure are different from when I was here last summer. The cannons are gone and there seem to be fewer guards, they didn’t even designate one to come up to the main building with us.” He paused as the main entrance came into view there was a stout looking woman in riot armor waiting at the door. The braids which ended in blue ribbons being the only clue to her gender. “That is Mary, she is the chief security officer here, remember let me do the talking.”


      “Been a while since we last saw you Harv.” Mary said in a rough voice. “Thought you were happy over at the University.”

      “I got important news for you and VonGarder, it’s worth some jack.” Harvey introduced his companions and Mary greeted all of them warmly, when she came to Wire she said, “You look like someone I used to know a long time ago, you got another name?”

      “Wire has been my name as long as I can remember.” He responded.

      “Well it looks like Harv and I got some business to discuss, this is Fritz she said pointing to a tall bald man in stained overalls who had arrived as they were talking. He will show you around while we talk.” With that Mary and Harvey turned and walked up a flight of stairs.

      “Howdy” Fritz said in a quiet voice.

      “How do you guys know Harvey?” Beth asked in a cheerful voice.

      “Ol’ Harv came through the mountains a while back. He spent some time with us as a trader and scavenger before he got exposed to rabies. We sent him to the Doctors over at the U. and the price of his care was that they got to keep him to work on their electronics for a year.”

      “You don’t look like the farming type.” Ed said eyeing his oil stained clothes.

      “Nope, I just fix the tractors, cars, trucks, guns……if it’s mechanical I can fix it. Wanna see my shop?” Fritz asked becoming excited for the first time since they had met him. He led them past several classrooms that had been converted into single family living areas, taking a right turn at the gymnasium, which had been converted into a huge barn he led them to the metal shop.

      There were six people working in the shop and they all stopped to look at the group as they entered the room. “These are my apprentices,” Fritz said with pride, turning to his people he bellowed, “get back to work.” There were two trucks in the room both in various states of repair. A metal lathe was being used to work on some shotgun barrels and a myriad of other tools and parts that Wire had no idea what they did. As they walked around, Fritz would speak to them and inspect the work of his apprentices, making corrections or dispensing advice with a sure hand. “I’m makin as many new shotguns as I can to replace those lost this spring when the Skins killed most of our fighters in an ambush. We had to surrender our cannons and the radios, I still miss those big bomb chuckers”

      “What happened?” Wire asked.

      “Well the University boys had one of their scav parties pinned down near the city library by some raiders, they radioed for help and they sent their main unit to the rescue. It was an ambush. The raiders wiped them out, all of them, then they attacked the university community proper. We had an arrangement with the University, food in exchange for medical care, we sent our guys to break the siege. On the way we ran into most of the Skins, there was a fight, we lost, they returned most of our people in exchange for our radios. They kept the weapons. I guess the Skins drove off the raiders, since the university came under their “protection” soon after.”  

      “Do you have a store here, where I can barter for some goods?” Wire asked.

      “Used to, but now all trading is done in the Zone, you will have to get J.B. to make an exception for you.”

      “Who is J.B.?”

      “You guys really aren’t from around here are you.” Fritz said with a smile. “J.B. VonGarder led our group out of eastern Kentucky to here five years ago. We settled the area and began to grow our crops, life was good until the Skins got interested in us.” He paused, “I guess it won’t hurt to show you what we got in the warehouse.” Fritz led them down the hall and up another flight of stairs. As they turned the corner they nearly bumped into Harvey, Mary and an older man with grey hair wearing a business suit.

      Harvey introduced them to J.B. VonGarder smoothly.

      “Well it looks like they will do.” J.B. said with a surprisingly pleasant voice.

      Wire was looking at Harvey with some interest. The old scav had undergone a startling change. He now wore new clothes, combat boots, overalls, a green rain poncho, spectacles and a World War One style helmet. In one hand he carried a new double barreled shotgun and a new backpack positively bulged with hidden goodies. He was about to say something about it when Beth quietly kicked the back of his boot shutting him up.

      The group moved down the hall into a meeting room and sat down.

      “Harvey has collected the bounty for the Skins you killed yesterday.” J.B. began. Another nudge from Beth kept Wire quiet. “The information that Harvey has brought in concerning conditions within the University Community has also been of great value. Without or radios, contact between the two groups has been intermittent at best. With Carter High being the only community not currently under the control of the Skins we feel that we will be next. The loss of our weaponry and radio has left us too weak to prevent the Skins from taking most of our harvest by force this fall. We need everyone to keep this place running and cannot send people out for help. Our best guess is that we have approximately three months before the Skins make their move.”

      Harvey turned to a seriously pissed off Wire and said, “In exchange for finding them some help in the next three months they have offered their community as a refuge for the winter. In addition, they have offered equipment worth almost two thousand barter points. I think we all know where some help might be found.” He finished calmly.

      “Let us think about it tonight.” Ed said, “We will make the formal announcement in the morning.”

      “There will be no formal contract.” Mary hissed, “We feel that there may already be traitors in our community, much like Davis was for the University.”

      “We would like to see you back, or the Skins gone by early September.”

      With that the meeting broke up the scav team went to the room that was assigned to them.

      “If you ever go making deals without my consent again I will kill you.” Wire said quietly.

      “Just a second,” Harvey said absentmindedly as he rummaged through his new backpack. “Got this for you.” The bearded scav tossed wire a box about a foot long. Wire opened it, inside was a K-Bar fighting knife with a composite handle and Kydex sheath. He continued handing out packages for the next few minuites like a survivalist santa. Everyone got enough jerky, hardtack, and dried vegetables to last them for a week. Rain Ponchos, and 10 new rounds for each of their guns. “I suggest everyone bathe before they get into their new clothes.” The guide finished.

      “I want to get clean before the rest of you ruin the water.” Beth said unlacing her boots.

“That is not going to be a problem,” Harvey muttered, “they have running water. See Mary before you get wet, she will show you where they keep the clothes.”

Boots in one hand, shotgun in the other, Beth left the room with a smile on her face. Wire watched her go.

      “Like her do you.” Harvey said, after she had gone.

      Wire blinked in surprise.

      “I guess that is a yes.” Ed snickered.

      “You will probably need these long before I will,” Harvey continued with a chuckle, reaching into his bag and tossing Wire a box of condoms.

      Red faced, Wire hurriedly shoved the box into the bottom of his pack.

“What’s the matter, aren’t you interested?” Wire asked Ed, more to move the conversation to someone else than out of any curiosity.

“I lost my wife, kid and boat to some pirates a month ago.” He said quietly.

“Shit, I’m sorry man.” Wire said.

“You didn’t know.” Ed responded.

It was to a much quieter band that Beth returned to a few minuites later.

“What happened, did someone die?” asked the farm girl.

“Yep.” Ed said as he strode out to take his turn in the shower.

Beth was still wearing her ball cap, but had replaced her faded jeans for some Olive drab fatigues. She had thrown her leather jacket onto the bed and her brown hair was a little darker than usual. It was still wet. Her new t-shirt clung nicely to her well muscled body. For the first time Wire got a good look at her chest and was surprised at the size of her breasts. “New bra.” she said nudging her way past the dumbfounded Wire and shrugging into a matching fatigue top.

“I gotta go check on Ed.” The terminally embarassed Wire said as he scuttled from the room. He went down stairs and found Fritz working in the machine shop. “Can you do anything to improve this?” He said, drawing, unloading and handing his GP-100 to Fritz.

“Oh yeah.” He said excitedly. “No charge, come back in an hour.” His eyes gleamed.

Wire next went back upstairs to find Mary and the clothing supply, she had taken her helmet off, during the meeting she had only raised the visor on it. Her face was weatherbeaten and wrinkled. “Need some new clothes, handsome?” She said with a wink, taking Wire into a room full of all kinds of stuff. It took Wire about half an hour to find clothes that fit. He ended up with new underwear, Olive Fatigues, Combat Boots, a white t-shirt and a wide brimmed boonie hat.

“You sure you ain’t got lice boy?” Mary asked as he collected his pile of new clothes.

“Sorry, a nervous habit.”

“Well, lets get rid of the spikey hairdo,” she said picking up some electric shears and plugging them into solar battery pack.

“I usually cut it myself…..” Wire said nervously eyeing the shears.

“I can tell.” Mary said cutting away. A few moments later she said, “Now you look more presentable, a bath and some new clothes and you will be a new man.”

After his shower Wire certainly felt like a new man. As he walked out of the shower area, he noticed that his old clothes were gone, and the contents of his pockets placed onto a plastic tray. He took a moment to redistribute his old gear in his new clothes and then looked at his reflection in the mirror. “Damn, I do look a hell of a lot better.” He thought to himself as he walked out into the hallway. Mary was waiting for him.

“Dang, you really do look like someone I used to know, especially with that buzz cut, was your daddy a soldier?” Mary said.

“Don’t know, never knew him.” Wire lied smoothly. He walked back down stairs to collect the pistol he had left with Fritz. The gun that the mechanic handed him barely resembled the battered wreck that he had handed over an hour ago. He hardly listened as Fritz proudly detailed all the minor repairs and changes he had made to the gun because he was too busy determining that this really was the same weapon he had dropped off. He slid the pistol back into its shoulder holster, thanked Fritz and wandered back upstairs to Beth and the others.

“Wow, you really clean up good!” Beth said, as Wire walked in and tossed his hat onto his bed.

“Nice haircut.” Ed commented. He was wearing new overalls with a dark gray shirt.

“Look at what Fritz did to my pistol.” Wire said showing the others his gun.

“Have him take a look at mine too.” Beth said, tossing her Walther PPK to Ed as he and Harvey stampeeded out the door.

With the two of them alone again for the first time since their encounter with the Skins back at PharmCO, they were both nervous. Beth sat up on her bed and looked at Wire. “I heard the others were busting your chops about me while I was gone.” He barely prevented his hand from scratching away at his head.

“Uhhh…..well….hmmm” Was the extent of his vocabulary.

“It’s ok, I like you too. Is there someone waiting for you with the Harriers?” Beth asked shyly.

“No, most of the women with us were older and already paired up. In the Harriers everyone fights, there are no camp followers, no prostitutes.”

“That is not what I meant!” Beth shouted, getting angry.

“You misunderstand, let me finish.” Barked Wire. “I have not had the opportunity to be around women who weren’t already married or older than Mary.” He looked at her carefully. “I never thought I would have an opportunity to spend time with a girl my own age who didn’t see me as a source of revenue. I guess that I don’t know much about women.”

“You sure don’t!” Beth said and stormed out of the room.

A few minuites later Ed entered the room.

“Trouble in paradise?” He asked.

“I guess, I don’t understand women.” Wire replied.

“Don’t worry, I think she will give you another chance. You will do better next time.”

A few doors away Beth was talking to Mary.

“Don’t worry, I know men can be idiots.” Mary was saying.

“I guess that the Harriers don’t teach their boys about girls.” Beth sniffed.

“Damn! I knew I had seen his like before. He is the spitting image of his dad.” Mary swore.

“What do you know about him?”

“I won’t tell you more than he is willing to reveal, but if he is anything like his dad, he’s a keeper.”



Mogwa was sure that he was being followed. For the last hour as he had slowly moved back towards the site of his final fight with Beth’s friends he had heard occasional noises. He had lost a lot of the stiffness in his limbs as he had moved through the rubble but he as still very sore. Finding a good spot to set up an ambush he ducked into the remains of an office building. He doubled back inside the building and looked out one of the windows to see who was following him. After a moment, he saw a younger skin move slowly around the corner. He was wearing junk armor and was carrying a fire axe. He let the younger man pass him by and waited a moment longer to be sure that he was alone. Then he moved to catch up with the man who had been ghosting him.

“What do you want kid?” He asked.

“I was looking for you.” The startled teen replied.


“I was hoping you could lead me to the others.” The axe wielding skin replied.

“You were going to take on all four of them by yourself?” Mogwa asked incredulously. When the other did not reply he continued, moving closer to the youngster. “Sure you weren’t going to take my head, wait a week and then bring it in for the bounty?”

The kid was fast, quicker than the stiff Mogwa had expected. The first axe blow slashed through his pants, leaving a narrow cut on his right thigh. There never was a second axe blow.


The adventurers were eating dinner in the room that had been set aside for them by VonGarder. The meal consisted of fresh bread, chicken, and salad. It was one of the best that any of them had eaten in a long time. Mary had decided to join them for dinner. After a few moments it became obvious to the rest of the group that Harvey and the bodyguard had been an item at some time in the past, especially the way that Mary constantly ribbed the old scav about his snoring. Once they had finished the meal, she became all business.

“I think I got a way to get you to Richmond.” Mary began, “there is a boat called the Salvation at the old yacht club east of here. If you leave in the morning you should be able to reach it in a few hours.”

“I know how to get there from route 924, that is where I came into the city.” Ed said, obviously excited about getting back on the water. “Is Ron still captain of the Salvation?”

“Yep, we got some corn whiskey for him, as well as some ethyl for the boat. It should be enough to cover the costs of the trip to Richmond.” Mary smiled at Harv, “when you make it to Richmond, look up Doc Burrows at the North Pike Mall. He knows us and may be able to get you into a meeting with their council.”

“Do they have a radio there?” Wire asked.

“Yes, we used to be in weekly contact with them until we lost ours.”

“Is there a way we can clear our rep with the U community before we go?” Ed asked.

“We have some contact with them at the trade zone, a word or two in the right ear should get you in their good graces.” Mary said between bites of bread. “I will give you a carrying rig for the fuel for the Salvation, just leave it with them and someone will bring it back for a refill, I hope it will be you guys, with good news.”

            “I don’t think this gig is going to be that easy.” Wire stated.

“Well, you can’t blame me for wishful thinking.” Mary responded “Still, it would be nice. We have entertainers in the common area tonight, one who claims to have been on some records, you are welcome to go listen.”

            “Never too busy to hear good music.” Ed said, getting up from the table.

            “I am going to bed, it has been a long day.” Wire said.

            “I believe that I will have dessert with Mary.” Harvey said with a grin. There was no dessert on the table.

            Wire looked at Beth, he had been traveling alone for so long that he had not thought about what she might want to do.

            Beth winked at him and said, “I’m gonna catch some of the show with Ed and then hit the hay later.”


            Mogwa still had not fully adjusted to the junk armor he was wearing, unlike the riot armor, which was more of an integrated unit. The armor he had on now consisted of individual pieces of, aluminum, rubber and steel, which had to be attatched to different parts of his body.  He did like the axe though. His chances of survival, even if he succeeded in killing the PharmCo scav party were slim. Someone would shiv him in the dark back at the prison. He had to get out of the city. Shouldering the body of Elton the Skin he had killed a few blocks away he walked down the Church Street towards the old library where he hoped to find some Pagans.

            Wheeler was looking at Loreli across the fire. They had camped in the parking lot of the old public library. The librarian, an older man had told them that the library was under the protection of the Skins and that they would have to deal with them if there was any trouble. From the looks of the town they had the place tied up pretty tight. Still there was nothing that the Pagans couldn’t handle. ‘That Loreli would make a great old lady, too bad she would kill me in my sleep’ Wheeler thought to himself. He was an older biker, about 45 years old, he had been a stockbroker before the war, afterwards he had taken his new Harley and wandered about, he had forgotten his old name, career, morals in the first few weeks. He liked where he was and what he did. One of his old friends had called the stock brokers and the market legalized robbery. He did not know the meaning of the word. He had crushed that friend’s skull in with his M-16 a few days later when he had joined the Pagans.

            ‘Crap, he is smiling again.’ Loreli thought to herself. ‘I hope he isn’t going to try to bed me tonight, I gotta get some sleep.’ She checked the zipper on her flack vest again. It crushed her breasts, and she usually wore it open but with her old man dead and Wheeler angling as his replacement she did not want to get him so interested he did something stupid. Used to getting he way with her looks, Loreli was tall and blond, a natural beauty, she had stayed independent in the gang through a combination of violence and deal making. Out in the field with Wheeler and the others it was only a matter of time before he tried to claim her. Wheeler had too many friends among the gang officers for her to kill. The other two, Tree and Onoc were not worthy of her attention. Tree was a retard who could fix engines, and Onoc was a newbie who claimed he knew the city, so far he had impressed no one. She noticed someone approaching the camp.

 Loreli had chosen her position so she could see all approaches. Wheeler thought himself too important to stand a watch himself, so he had ordered Tree to do his as well. Tree had forgotten that he was on watch and was working on one of the cycle chains.

            “Someone’s coming.” Loreli said, drawing her pistol.

            “Better have something for us, or it will cost you!” Wheeler said into the dark, he had been sitting too close to the fire and could not see anything.

            “Yeah, I got this for you.” A gravelly voice said. A body thumped to the ground about a foot from the fire.

            Loreli stepped behind Wheeler, hoping that he would be killed first if it was an attack, unfortunately it wasn’t.

            A large man in junk armor walked into the fire light and hunched down next to the body. ‘This is definitely interesting!’ Loreli thought to herself, getting a good view of the man in the armor. Surreptitiously she unzipped her flack jacket about halfway.

            “My name is Mogwa, I am an exile from the Skins, I want to become a Pagan.” The newcomer said.

            “We are always looking for good men.” Loreli said, overstepping her bounds in the group, forcing Wheeler to publicly consider the offer. She was gambling big.

            Wheeler glared at her, he looked at the Rifle in his hands as if deciding who to shoot first.

            “We may be looking, what can you offer.” Wheeler said.

            “I can guide you in the city, I can fight and I brought my own entrance fee.” Mogwa said nudging the corpse with his boot.

            “You know our ways and our rules? Wheeler said.

            “I guess you have been watching us, like we have been watching you, ever since you inadvertently helped us get on top of the University Community. We were a road gang ourselves until about ten years ago when we settled down. I guess your rules are no different than ours.”

            “Why do you want to join us?” Loreli asked moving closer to the fire so the newcomer could get a good look at her. He looked at her for only an instant, but that moment told her what she wanted to know.

            “You got to eat the flesh of one of your old crew and that of a dead Pagan to join, and you need a bike of your own.” Wheeler said with a smile, knowing there was no way this guy was going to move in on his group.

            “We already have a guide, and we certainally don’t need an outcast skin.” Onoc wheezed, finally getting the courage to speak up now that he saw which way the wind was blowing.

            “This guy important to you?” Mogwa asked.

            Loreli nodded to the Skin and shifted her position so she was between Wheeler and Mogwa.

            “We need him to get to know the city.” Wheeler said. ‘Dammit Loreli, get out of my line of fire.’ He thought to himself.

            Mogwa moved so fast that Onoc didn’t even have time to blink. The axe blow severed his head so smoothly that the body remained seated next to the fire. He used the momentum of the blow to pull himself to his feet and to move behind Loreli. He was within reach of Wheeler who had his gun on the wrong side of Loreli.

“I claim this man’s goods by right of combat!” Mogwa shouted. He would never had made this play if he hadn’t gotten a certain vibe off the chick. Standing this close to her for the first time he could smell her hair, a combination of sweat, motor oil and vanilla, she smelled like heaven.

Wheeler realized that he was dead if he attempted to move. He looked around desperately trying to find an out. Loreli was not moving for the same reason, and Tree was looking at Onoc’s head.

“Well, you had better be a better guide than Onoc.” Loreli stated, breaking the tension.

Wire entered the room that they had been given. He felt pretty good, the food was great and he really was looking forward to a good nights sleep on a real bed. Since they were in a relatively safe place he took the luxury of removing his boots and socks, as well as his pants. He was worried about what they might find when the came to Richmond. A radio call to the Harriers was certainly within reason, and this was the type of contract they would take but only if they were available. As he drifted off to sleep he could faintly hear the music from the auditorium.

Beth was busy downstairs in the auditorium listening to the music and ignoring the interested looks she was getting from the local Romeos. The auditorium had originally contained four basketball courts and wooden bleachers. One of the bleachers had been converted to a chicken coop, two others had been removed to make room for the stables, which covered two of the original courts, the last was occupied by the members of the community that were not dancing. Some of the animals seemed to moo to the music. 

The musician was an average looking middle aged black man with a goatee. There was nothing average about his voice, it was strong and clear and he sang songs about good themes, although she did not understand some of the references. Mostly people preferred to her the old songs from before the war, but this singer also had some sad songs about post war life. She had only meant to stay for a few songs and then go upstairs to talk with Wire but she found herself having too much fun to go to bed so early. Having grown up in a much smaller agricultural community she was at home with the people and what they were doing, the fact that they had running water and some electricity made the place seem like heaven. It would be good to spend the winter here, and perhaps longer, if things worked out.

Ed had traveled all over what was left of Virginia and North Carolina, now called mostly, Ginia (the virgin no longer being a part of the name) and the Lina’s. His boat had taken him to many different communities, to trade fish for fuel. This was a good place but he was eager to get back on the water. He enjoyed the singing immensely, until some of the newer songs were sung. They reminded him of his family and his old boat. After that he was no longer so eager to get back on the water. He collected Beth and they headed back to their quarters together. By the time they opened the door to the room, Wire had already moved to the opposite side of the room and had the door covered with his shotgun.

“We really have got to come up with some protocols, if we are going to continue traveling together.” Wire said. “Otherwise we have no way of knowing what is going on, we need a code for, ‘I am coming in and everything is fine, not fine etc’”.

“You are right.” Beth replied, admiring Wire in his skivvies.

“We will come up with a system tomorrow with Harvey, I don’t think we will be seeing him tonight.” Ed observed.

As they drifted off to sleep Wire asked, “Who was the musician?”

“Some guy named Hootie the Blowfish or something like that.” Beth answered.


Mogwa had eaten the “long pig” before and was able to swallow both Elton’s and Onoc’s flesh without vomiting. Still it was weird eating someone you knew. He declined seconds when Wheeler rudely offered one of Eltons large hands to him. “Tastes like chicken.” The old biker quipped. ‘This guy has got to die soon.’ He thought to himself, looking across the fire at Loreli he realized that she was thinking the same thing. The chick had only eaten sparingly, more for the sake of the ritual than with any real appetite. Tree would happily eat anything that was put in front of him.

He had looked over Onoc’s gear and was disappointed, the newbie did not own a gun, all he could scav from the body was a wrist rocket and 15 steel ball bearings. ‘At least he had a bike,’ he thought, looking at the battered Kawasaki dirt bike that was now his.

“Now that the first part of the joining ritual is done, we can get down to the business of marking you as one of us.” Loreli said with a wicked grin as she opened a small case and removed some inks and needles. “You are lucky I brought my good stuff into the field with me.”

Mogwa was glad that the only Skins tattoo he had was on his chest and not on his head like many of the younger fighters did. Still he was nervous.

“Don’t worry baby,” Loreli said as she unzipped the flack jacket all the way, revealing a low cut shirt that barely covered a grinning horned skull tattooed between her ample breasts. “I am going to make that bald head of yours into a work of art!” She sat down between his legs and got to work.


Harvey joined them at the breakfast table that morning after everyone had taken a second decadent shower in as many days. Breakfast consisted of real eggs, real bacon and fake coffee, but two out of three was not bad at all in this case. Over the meal they discussed certain signals and sleeping protocols that would hopefully save their lives. “Well, I hope I can keep it all straight!” Harvey said with a smile.

“If you don’t one or all of us could die.” Wire answered.


Mogwa’s head burned. The wind generated by the bike only made the pain worse. Loreli had a light touch and a sure hand but undergoing the tattoo process without a pain killer had been excruciating. Fortunately she had used leaves from some “Deathlands Dandilions” to stop the bleeding. This plant had changed a lot since the ruin. The leaves would absorb huge amounts of blood, and once stuck to an open wound they stayed there until everything had clotted. The seeds were rumored to stick to the flesh and begin to grow. So far Mogwa had not seen that happen. His head and upper chest were currently covered with the leaves, which in turn overlaid the new tattoos. He now had a large Horned Skull tattoo on the top of his head. Each side of his head had a styelized horn on it. The Skins tattoo on his chest had been altered to say ‘Skins Suck’. There was no going back.

‘That sure is some of my best work!’ Loreli thought to herself as she rode alongside Mogwa. The newbie was tough, and did not make a sound as she worked on his head. She liked that. If he could survive the next few days maybe she would have a new ‘old man’. She itched to get her hands on the rest of the newcomer’s body and leave her personal mark on it.