Simon stumbled out of the forest, his hair plastered against his face, sweat soaking his clothing.
He tripped, cursing as he fell, the tree root sticking out of the ground seeming to mock him as it gleamed with dew in the brightening moonlight.
Graydon looked up as a silver streak flashed, the tail disappearing into the fading light in the west.
“SHIT!” He yelled, kicking at the root, which ignored the blow, as it had ignored the nuke-altered weather, and the multitude of other dangers in the Deathlands.
“Damn it!” Simon said. Frustrated, he looked around, recognizing this part of the road as one just seven hours from Rykerville. He had been stymied in his attempt to cut some time off of his trip back by a deep canyon that had been opened by the nukecaust, the sheer walls an impossible barrier.
Seven hours in twelve.
He cursed again. He had to get back!
Mary’s face swam into focus behind closed eyes.
He sat down to catch his breath knowing that, fit as he was, he had to rest.
He wouldn’t do anyone any good if he dropped dead from exhaustion.
He crunched down the last of the MRE’s he had taken from the Redoubt, tasting nothing but a bitter gall. Water would soon be a problem, so he used what he had sparingly, not trusting the local waters flowing through the streams that he’d passed.
Simon, active for the last thirty-six hours, still chewing the last of his food, began to doze off, the image of Mary snapping into sharp relief.
It had been their last night together, after he had made his preparations.
They had stood at the foot of their bed, scented candles found in a forgotten box burning around them, shining and reflecting from the mirror on the dressing table, giving the illusion of the two lovers being surrounded by stars.
Slowly, they undressed each other, Mary unbuttoning Simon’s shirt, Graydon sliding the nightgown she wore off of her shoulders.
He shrugged the shirt off; letting it hit the ground at the same time Mary’s gauzy gown landed.
They stood facing each other, Mary clad in nothing but her panties, Simon still wearing his pants.
Mary knelt before him, unbuttoning the combat pants, pulling them down, finding him ready for her.
She leaned forward, taking him into her mouth, moving her head slowly until he groaned and gently pushed her away.
She rose as his hands clasped her shoulders, and she watched as he knelt, pulling her panties down with hooked fingers, revealing the treasure beneath.
He felt her hands on the back of his head, holding him as his arms encircled her waist, and he pressed his face into her stomach, inhaling the scent from her dark skin. Then, he ducked his head down, guided by her hands to find the small, swelling bud.
Mary moaned as his tongue flicked, shuddered as he began to nurse like a baby, clutching his head convulsively. His hands cupped her buttocks, and lifted her slightly, giving him greater access.
The young woman squirmed helplessly in his grasp, flinging her head back.
“N-not yet,” she whispered, trying to push his head away. He sucked for a few more seconds, until she began to whimper, and her flesh became slick with sweat, then he released her.
He stood, feeling her lean against him, her body trembling with pent-up desire, then he scooped her up with strong arms, and carried her the short distance to the bed.
Laying her down, his hands trailed along her taut and toned body, his fingers slowly caressed her breasts, feeling the firmness, and the nipples rising against his palms.
Simon lay down beside her, and she rolled over on one side, facing him. Their hands again traced along the flesh of the other, drawing each other close, lips meeting.
“Now,” she whispered in his ear, hugging him to her.
Graydon rolled atop her, feeling her thighs cradling him as he sought and found her warm, waiting folds.
He gave a gentle thrust, sheathing himself half way, watching his lover’s face as she was slowly filled. Then he pulled back, and fully entered her, the sounds of her growing pleasure nearly tipping him over the edge.
They made slow love, seconds ticking by into minutes, minutes into an eternity of mind-expanding pleasure. They stopped again and again as they neared their peak, holding off, stoking the fires.
They rolled over, Mary on top working her hips, gently rolling them as Simon held her waist, guiding her movements.
Then they moved so that Mary was kneeling, and Simon was thrusting from behind, his hands grasping tightly, his movements almost rough, the girl beneath him groaning as her own pleasure rose, all teasing and playing gone as they both strove for their own peaks, minds clear of everything but the growing sensations, growing until…
Simon’s head flung back as he thrust that final time, tendons in sharp relief along his neck, his teeth, shining white in the near-darkness clenched tightly as his world exploded in nuke-hot whiteness.
Mary climaxed a heartbeat later, her hands clutching the sheets beneath, crying out, her voice echoing loudly in the dimming light of the room.
They were asleep before the last candle flared in its pool of wax and died.
He awoke with blaster half-drawn, the last traces of false dawn fading, bowing it’s head to the true dawn that would struggle to shine through the rad-dust and chemclouds that still blanketed the world.
Simon stood, feeling his joints protest as they were forced into action so soon after resting.
He could hear the rumbling of a fairly well-tuned wag coming down the road, just beyond the turn.
Coming from Rykerville…
Elsbeth was ecstatic about her escape, her luck in finding the wag that the keys belonged to, and the relative ease of her vacating of the Baron’s ville.
A little grease, scooped from the floor of the wag bay where the wag had been kept darkened her smooth face, along with a cap found hung on a nail to cover her silvered hair, and she drove by the half-asleep guards, just another of the Baron’s wags driving out on the villes business, driven by a grease-faced mechanic.
She gave a toss of her platinum hair. She could trade this wag for a horse and enough jack for another stake in another ville. She knew that the Baron wouldn’t care much about the death of one of his guards, after all, what Baron did?, but the theft of one of his wags, no way in this side of Hell.
Nor on the other side, come to think of it.
So, best to get out of here, start somewhere else.
Alarmed, Elsbeth looked out the drivers side window, not having seen anything in the front that she might have hit, her brain, a little slow from several hours of hiding before she could steal the truck she was in, not registering the shape on the running board until she was looking right down the tunnel-sized barrel of the night-black blaster her new passenger was holding on her.
Simon saw the single light of the truck as it came around the turn, rumbling engine loud in the fading darkness.
He pondered all his options, then acted, feet lifting and falling as he ran full tilt, his blaster in his right hand.
He leaped as the truck drove by, snagging the mirror, and hitting the running board with his right foot, feeling his left drag on the ground for an instant. Then, he pulled himself up, and thrust the barrel into the face of the other, his finger a hair’s breath from chilling pressure…
And he stopped as the silvery hair flashed, tinted by the one remaining dash light.
He recognized her as the woman taken by the guards the day before.
“Stop!” Simon roared at her, shocking her from immobility. She took one more look at the silver ring set into the black of the slide and casing, then took her foot off the gas, letting the truck slow gradually, not wanting to give this man an excuse.
Obviously a ‘jacker of some kind, hopefully just wanting the wag. She decided to let him have it, and maybe convince him to let her off at the next ville, using some remaining Rykerville jack or maybe even her body.
She had no wish to remain in uncivilized country for too long, with cannies and muties running about, who would consider her an excellent bedmate or snack…
This ‘jacker though, seemed to be alone. Which was why she hadn’t just tromped on the brake when she had seen him.
She would submit to one man, but she drew the line at gang rape.
She closed her eyes as the wag came to a complete stop.
Once had been enough.
Simon stepped back, his blaster held steady as the wag-door opened.
The woman made egress, her hands up. At her side was a blade, hooked to a web-belt.
She didn’t appear to have a blaster, but as always, appearances could be deceiving.
Neither said a word.
The woman spoke first: “If you’re one of the Baron’s sec-men, you might as well chill me. I’m not going back.”
Brave words, Simon reflected. If she could get the quiver out of her voice, she’d be a lot more convincing.
“I’m not,” he replied. He gestured with the blaster, pointing to the side of the truck, which had started out it’s life as a Mercedes™ diesel but had become, over the years, an unrecognizable hybrid of welded scrap and scavenged, worked-over parts. “Over there. Face the truck, and lean into it, arms and legs spread.”
She hesitated, and Simon barked out: “Now! Or I’ll just chill you right here!”
He pushed her roughly into the side of the truck, kicked her legs wide, and then quickly relieved her of the big knife, making sure she had no other weapons anywhere.
He stepped back. “All right,” he said.
She turned around, looking at him with her ice-blue eyes. “Please..” she began.
“Save it,” Graydon said, cutting her off. “I saw the guard take you away, when he killed the man you were with. And you didn’t clean your blade very well,” he continued as he held up the weapon. “There’s blood around the guard at the base. Tells me you killed him to get away. Likely you’d try to kill me too, if I gave you the chance.”
“So?” she replied. Elsbeth dropped her frightened demeanor, her icy eyes sharpening in an instant.
“Better,” Simon told her.
“I’m heading down the road,” He said, pointing away from Rykerville. “I’m taking the wag. You can come with me, if you want. I give you my word, I only want the truck to get where I’m going, then you can use it to go anywhere you can with it. But don’t fuck around with me. I’ll chill you if I have to.”
His eyes softened for an instant.
“I have to get back.”
She looked at him for an instant, then nodded.
After all, he had missed the lockpicks in her hair, and if necessary, they could be used as a weapon on soft targets, like eyes.
Always have way out, was one of her rules.
It had saved her more than once.
Mary’s stomach growled, waking her up.
She was now in a stone cell, having been brought here by a back road, used only by Hardiman and his private little army when they didn’t want to be seen.
Her insides had settled, though her mind still whirled, and her heart felt like a lump of ice in her chest.
Her eyes settled on the patch of half rinsed blood on the floor in front of the cell, the faded stain a mute testimony of a recent, bloody demise.
Hardiman had nearly turned purple when he saw the stain, yelling for a bucket to be brought, and the stain washed away.
She had missed most of the waiting guard’s explanation, hearing only the words ‘escaped’ and ‘silver’, then the impact of Hardiman’s fist against the man’s face.
The guard was flung back, his head impacting the wall with the sound of cracking eggshells, then he slid to the floor, leaving a trail of red and grey.
She had forced herself to laugh, the sound dry and brittle.
Hardiman was drawn by the sound, his norm eye and his red cat’s-eye squinting dangerously.
“You find something amusing, Dear Mary? Tell me, then we shall share the joke.”
“Just keep chilling your sec-men,” she told him. “That way, there’ll be fewer of them between us when I come for you, and none when I’m tying you down with your own guts.”
Hardiman’s arm flashed between the rusted bars, his fingers barely brushing the face of the unflinching girl, who stood just out of arm’s reach.
“Bitch!” he spat. “You’ll beg for me to help you when the Baron calls for you, beg me to chill you when he’s finished! But all I’ll do is laugh, and remember your little-girl wailing when you saw what I threw out with your wash water!”
“Tough talk, Sec-man. We’ll see who laughs.” She turned from him, sat on the bare metal frame of the bed set into the wall.
“And we’ll see who dies.”
Hardiman pulled his arm from between the bars, slapped down the remaining guard, took his keyring and stood there, his hands trembling with fury, the key poised to open the lock.
Mary watched him calmly, and saw the blood start over the keys, spilling from Hardiman’s tightly gripping fingers.
Hardiman turned abruptly, throwing the heavy keys into the staggered guard’s face, blood spraying as they cut into his skin.
Ignoring the man’s protests, Hardiman’s eyes slowly swung over, met Mary’s.
She smiled grimly, and laughed at his back as he turned around, and stormed out.
Left alone, the face-cut guard going to wash the blood from his face, her laughter changed.
And she began softly sobbing.
A day after he had commandeered the wag, Simon stepped into the carnage that had swept through Valenburg.
Vultures and muties had been at work here, and some, unwilling to leave such an abundance of carrion, had wanted to battle for it.
Blaster fire had echoed through the forest, taking the lives of some of the scavengers, the rest fleeing to wait in the bushes and trees, ready to resume when the black two leg left.
Tears, unbidden, flowed down Simon’s face as he looked at the torn pieces of meat that had been the only family he’d ever known.
He breathed through his mouth, though this left a thick, sour taste at the back of his throat.
He walked carefully, avoiding the out flung arms, the soft and bloody entrails that insects scurried over, each body a mute testimony of the viscousness of Nature’s reclaimation of what is her’s.
Simon’s eyes refocused, his mind swirling, the darkness of his own past giving faces where there was none, torn by violence and scavs, countenances of his own past-times staring back at him, each a victim of his obedience to orders.
He stopped, seeing a body, greying flesh still dark enough to remind him of the delicate beauty of the woman when she had lived.
He reflected, in the back of his mind, how he had never learned her name. She had taken such delight in him calling her Mother that he had never bothered.
He turned, but stopped, turned again.
She was pointing, her index finger extended, strangely untouched by the voracious creatures that waited patiently, staring at him with hunger-lusted eyes. His eyes followed the direction her finger indicated saw the corner of what appeared to be an old box, poking out of the bushes just at the edge of the clearing.
He stumbled over the remains of a legless man, too torn to be recognizable, and quickly strode over to the object, a rusted metal box, hinged at one edge, the US ARMY stencil nearly obliterated.
Graydon tried to open it but found the clasp welded shut by age. He unsheathed the sword, and battered at the box with the grip until the rusted metal shattered, and the lid raised slightly.
Using the tip of the saber, Simon lifted the lid the rest of the way, revealing a collection of rounded objects, most of them with a scarlet band around them, the others plain.
Implodes and what might be fragmentation.
Simon looked back at the scattered corpses, and marveled at Mary’s mother’s will. Clinically he had noted, even as grief threatened to overwhelm him, that she had been gutshot, and must have taken hours to die.
To point out the box, to hold her hand in that position, while going through such pain…
Like a slap, he realized what was missing
Mary. Nowhere in the mass of rotting flesh was Mary’s body.
They had taken her.
Relief was mixed with horror, for though Mary was still alive, he remembered her words to him.
who go into the Baron’s chambers,” she’d told him, “don’t
come out…the same.”
Slowly, Simon stood. He turned in the direction of Rykerville.
have swallowed a bullet first.”
Deliberately, he slid the saber back into its scabbard, then, taking off his coat, used it to tie the grenade box closed.
Grunting with the effort, he picked up the unwieldy case, hoisting it to his shoulder.
He was going to kill the Baron for this…even if he had to stuff this whole case down the bastard’s throat.
Elsbeth started, as Simon seemed to materialize beside her, his face looking in at her through the wag window.
She could smell gas and smoke about him, and behind him, she could see a black pall of smoke rising into the air.
He walked around the wag, putting a box on the seat between them after he opened the door.
“What happened?” she asked. She shuddered at the glare he gave her.
Graydon slid behind the wheel, leaned back.
“Hardiman got to everyone. The whole ville is dead. Everyone…” he trailed off.
Then he started again.
“Scavs had gotten to the bodies. They were all torn up, but they had been wounded or killed by gu…blasterfire, high powered assault rifles. I got what I needed, then set the whole place.”
He left out the fact that he had stood and cried as his and Mary’s house had burned, as her mother’s body was slowly turned to ash and charred bone, as those who had trusted him slowly blew away on a smoke-laden wind.
Elsbeth held up her hands, which were tied tightly, a length of cord trailing down to her feet, coiling around her ankles.
“I’m sorry about your ville,” she said, “But we had a deal. You bring the truck here, then you let me go.”
Simon didn’t look at her as he started the truck, noting how the fuel tank still read well over the halfway mark.
“The deal’s changed,” he said simply, throwing the truck violently into gear.
Starting off in the direction of Rykerville.
Mary looked up as Hardiman, now calm, waited as the guard, sporting a bandaged face opened the cell.
Hardiman held a tray which held, on a wooden platter, a piece of steaming meat, bread and cheese, with a plastic tumbler of water.
“Eat now, sweet Mary,” the Sec-chief said. “This may be the last time you are able to.”
Too dry to spit at the big man, and too hungry to resist the smell of the food, Mary took the tray, and began to eat, first drinking from the tumbler, then eating, bite after bite the cheese, meat and bread, ignoring the way Hardiman watched her.
Having eaten her fill, Mary pushed the tray away, looking pointedly away from Hardiman. She felt him reach for her, cupping her chin, turning her face towards his.
“The Baron,” he told her, “will see you now.”
She tried to spit in Hardiman’s face, but found her body unwilling to respond. Mary felt a floating feeling in her head, like the one time she had gotten drunk, a year before.
“I must apologize for the drugs in your food,” Hardiman said, a little note of laughter in his voice. “But the Baron insisted you be brought to him quietly, so I couldn’t have you scream all the way there, now could I?”
He leaned over, picked her up like a child, cradling her body to him.
“Time to go.”
Mary was aware of her surroundings, but just didn’t find them to be very important. Hardiman held her cradled to his chest, his arms handling her weight easily.
She could hear his steps echoing, see the rough walls passing by, smell the slight tang of air that had gone unmoved for too long.
The drugs began plunging her deeper into sleep, pulling with soft, gentle arms that wouldn’t be denied. Mary’s vision began to blur, and she could just notice the change start in the air, becoming cleaner, and at the same time more…artificial.
Hardiman’s voice ghosted through her ears, saying; “Open it.”, and then the nearly unconscious girl heard the sound of a lock clicking open.
Time seemed to blink, and things changed.
Now the sounds she heard were of strides on metal, like when she heard boots going over the sewer grates of Rykerville’s streets.
The air was devoid of the smoky, dung smells of the streets, instead, it had the taste of air held in a house too long.
Mary tried to force her eyes open, succeeding only to the point where she could see blurred images that were too far beyond her ability to focus on.
Shadows seemed to pass before her eyes, and she realized that it wasn’t shadows, but the spaces between lights, a vast row of lights, the sheer number of which boggled her Deathlands trained mind.
She could feel her astonishment at this marvel of predark tech fading as the drugs began to reassert themselves in her system, rousing after another blink, when Hardiman put her down on a cool metal surface, her eyes opening just enough to get the impression of strangely shaped disks on the floor and ceiling, and of shining dark green walls.
“Enjoy your visit,” Hardiman intoned. “I’m sure the Baron will be all you imagined him to be.”
Mary, spending the last of her energy turned her head slightly, her blue eyes staring at Hardiman, meeting his red one.
She could make out his grin when he shut the thick metal door.
Then she saw and felt the chilling silver mist rising from the floor, falling from the ceiling in sparkling white waves.
Mary felt her mind spinning, and for an instant, she thought that Hardiman had shown some sense and was killing her in some strange poisoned gas chamber.
Then she fell into a darkness no light could ever touch.
Simon came to stop, just before the guardpost leading into the ville.
He turned his head to face the girl he had tied up, her teeth working at the gag he had stuffed into her mouth.
Her eyes held a combination of anger and fear.
She was shaking her head, pleading with him for one last time.
“I’m sorry,” Simon said, and reached over, placing his hand on the left side of her neck, thumb below the ear, fingers tracing along the pulsing vein that ran down her throat, his other hand bracing her head.
Then he pressed, feeling her struggling, feeling the struggles weaken almost immediately as the blood was cut off from her brain.
Her icy eyes burned at him one last time, then rolled up, and eyelids slid closed.
Training bid him to finish, hold his fingers there for another minute, let the blood starved brain give that last final convulsion before death took over, but he resisted, and released her.
Her head fell back, hitting the rotting vinyl armrest with a thump.
Simon’s hands fumbled with her blouse, then pulled away.
Simon looked away, and saw a number of Sec-men coming towards him, blasters leveled, and he had no doubt that the safeties were off, and the triggers only an ounce from firing.
He took a deep breath.
And held up empty hands.
Mary stood in the center of a white whirlwind, her hair blowing straight into her face, then being pulled around her head, the ends lashing her open eyes.
“Mary,” came a voice from the wind.
She knew the voice.
“Momma,” she said, her voice quivering in the air, riding the vibration of the awesome power surrounding her.
“Mary,” said the voice again, stronger and clearer than her own.
Mary caught movement , and saw the figure of her mother step from the wall of white, like stepping through a parted veil.
Mary tried to go to her, but found her feet wouldn’t move.
“We haven’t much time,” her mother said. “Listen to me. Life is hard, dying is easy. But leaving all behind is the hardest thing of all. I couldn’t leave you, my child. Not before I told you how much I loved you, how much we all did.”
“Some fear change, some embrace it. Some use evil, and some are used by it. Some have Power, and all desire it, to use it, or destroy it.”
Her mother stepped closer, and placed her hands on Mary’s head, the girl despairing when her own hands wouldn’t work, realizing that she wouldn’t be able to hold her mother for this, what she sensed was the last time.
“My daughter,” Mary heard her say. “This is my gift to you. The only thing I have left.”
Mary felt her mother’s lips brush her forehead.
“Remember, I love you, my daughter. I always will.”
Her voice was carried away by the growing wind, now a chemstorm howl in Mary’s ears.
She watched as her mother took in a deep breath, began to shout, then was dashed away by the whiteness as it collapsed upon the duo, taking away all sight, all sound, leaving only a tingling at the ends of her fingers, and a roiling in her stomach.
She blinked, and the whiteness changed, in that instant, into black and silver streaked walls, flashing mists slowly fading.
And as they faded, she felt the nausea grow, until she instinctively rolled, and lay on her side as her body convulsed, her stomach heaving out the remains of the drugged meal Hardiman had given her.
She heard a door unlock, and felt the air stir as it opened.
Mary was too weak to turn over to look, and she could feel her brain sliding into more blackness with a certainty that bordered on the prophetic.
She plunged headfirst into it, as the Baron’s voice bid her welcome.
Graydon kept his hands away from his blaster as bolts were pulled back on the multitude of weapons covering him.
“I’m just here returning the Baron’s property,” he said, his voice steady. Sweat had started to gather on his palms, and his mouth felt desert dry.
If one finger twitched, he was dead, and Mary’s chances of getting away from the Baron would drop from slim, to near nonexistent.
“Who are you,” barked one of the men, a bright silver ‘R’ on his chest, just above the heart. “And what are you doing in the Baron’s wag?”
“Just bringing it back,” Simon replied. “Mebbe get a little taste of the good life if he needs another Sec-man. Or a reward for the wag, I don’t care which.”
“Hardiman’ll get a real jolt when he sees the wag’s back,” said a blonde-haired man behind the other who had spoken. “He’s been black-brained since he got back…from where ever he got back from, I’ve heard. Splattered Bricely’s head all over the wall of the cells when he found out the white haired slut was…Holy shit! She’s in the fuckin’ wag!”
The two men goggled at the sight of the unconscious woman on the seat beside Simon. Her blouse was pulled apart just enough to show she wore no bra, and the nipple, pressing against the edge of the open area was the only thing covered, the rest of her breast revealed to the lusting stares of the men without.
Simon had pulled her blouse open, gambling on the fact that the more attention they paid to her, the less they’d pay to him.
them,” that little voice had whispered, just before they’d gotten there.
“Pull their attention away from you.
Like shiny objects attract the crows.”
And it was working…so far.
“Let’em through,” the first man said, jumping up on the running board. “I’ll lead them to the garage, then take the slut back to the cell.”
“What about me?” Simon said, letting a little anger creep into his voice. Let the man think Simon was afraid he’d be cheated out of his reward.
If the man noticed the darkness in Simon’s voice, he ignored it.
“Don’t worry,” he replied. “After the wag’s back, and the silver-hair’s getting grit from the floor up her ass, I’ll take you to the Sec-chief hisself.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Hardiman’ll wanta see you fer this.”
Exactly what I had in mind, Graydon thought.
Nearly an hour had passed, and Elsbeth had been deposited back into the same cell she had escaped from.
She had come to just a few minutes before, and was cradling her head, which throbbed in time with her heartbeat. She brushed her face, feeling the grime of the cell floor rubbing against her skin, another irritation that added to the pain in her head.
The silver-haired woman stood, wavered a little as the room spun, grabbed the rusted bars of the jailcell for support. When she released them a few minutes later, her hands were as red as her vision, anger glinting in her iced eyes.
The entry door of the cellblock opened, and a tall, looming figure stepped through.
The red eye of Hardiman gazed at her.
Then he stepped forward, and closed the door behind him…
Simon had been waved through the checkpoints by virtue of the man riding the running board, who shouted abuse at the one guard who tried to wave them down.
“Move yer ass, club-foot! Can’t you see that we got the Baron’s wag here? Nukebrained gutterslut ass-fucker! Get outta the way!”
Simon didn’t slow down in the meantime, and the hapless guard had to nearly throw himself to the side to avoid the hurtling wag.
“Give the fuckers an inch,” the man said, “and they’ll take the whole damn territory. Don’t ever back down boy. Not ever.”
Apparently, the man’s philosophical outlook on life applied to speaking as well, Graydon reflected. If he had been inclined to talk, he wouldn’t have been able to say a word, even if he had used a prybar to squeeze it in.
At last though, the man shut up as the wag pulled up to a large door, set against the side of what looked to be an old warehouse, with barred windows and steel braced sides where another guard stood, his M-16 looking well cared for and deadly.
“Open the door, Jake,” the man on the running board ordered. “We’ve got the wag back, and someone who wants to see the Sec-chief.”
“He’s got bigger balls than me, then.” Jake stepped into a smaller door, which had been concealed behind him, and seconds later, amid the rattling of a chain through a pulley, the big segmented door began to slide upward.
“Slot five Dave,” Jake said to the other, waving them through.
Dave, the man on the side of the truck raised his rifle, a battered yet serviceable M-14 in acknowledgement, and then the wag pulled through, into the dimly lit building.
Simon marveled at the collection of vehicles here.
To his left was an old Ford half-ton, paint all but rusted off, setting up on blocks. The hood was up, and it appeared some sort of transplant was in the works, grease covered mechanics removing parts from the engine, and transferring them to another, less ravaged wag.
To his right, a selection of motorcycles sat, some battered and rusted beyond belief, but some glistened under a shine of wax and fresh paint.
“Those ever used?” he asked Dave, and the man shook his head.
“Nah. The Baron just had those dug up. Beauts, ain’t they? Hardiman says that we’ll use’em when we start goin’ out after the ‘jackers who’ve bin hittin’ the convoys we send out.”
“Ain’t nobody found nothin’ after, not bodies ner wags. Rumor is, they’re gettin’ hit by muties or cannies.” Dave chuckled. “Mebbe both.”
He pointed. “Pull’er in here. Then we’ll go catch a mug in the Sec-house.”
“Now?” Simon asked, watching the other’s reaction. The man shrugged.
“Gotta do something ‘til Hardiman shows up. He’ll likely wanna talk to the slut there, then he’ll wanna see you. I ain’t gonna be too far from where he’ll be expectin’ us to be.”
Graydon pulled the wag in, stopping it at the indicated place. He watched with a twinge of guilt as the platinum blonde girl was pulled out of the cab, the heels of her shoes leaving scuffmarks as two sec-men dragged her away.
But Mary was his priority.
Everyone else was either useful, or useless to him.
Unheard, the cold voice in the back of his head chuckled.
Bray sat in the shadows, watching the men as they pulled the girl from the wag, observing the man who had found them both watch only for a brief second, then turn away.
Lips pulled back from chipped teeth in a feral smile.
Graydon sniffed the air, catching the scent of grease, sweat, a hint of sewage from the grates nearby and something else…he couldn’t put his finger on it, but it tugged at his memory.
It was like trying to say someone’s name, with the sounds frozen at the end of your tongue. It was there, but it wasn’t.
Simon shrugged, and with his stomach tightening at the thought of going deeper into Hardiman’s territory, followed Dave the sec-man.
Graydon sat quietly, listening to the sec-men in the room telling lies about their sexual conquests.
The room was cinderblock, freshly painted from the smell of it. Smoke from cigarettes stank up the place, almost overcoming the scent of the paint. All of them had mugs of beer in their hands, some of which, Simon had noted, had some moonshine flavoring added.
Their raucous laughter was beginning to get on his nerves.
An hour had passed since his arrival, and Hardiman had yet to show. They had tried to get him drinking with them, but he had begged off, telling them that he would rather meet with the Sec-chief with a clear head.
Two or three of the men had nodded their agreement with him, while the rest had stated that they’d rather be well-fortified when the Sec-chief came a’callin’.
Dave, who had left to hit the lav, came back in, and spoke into Graydon’s ear, foul breath washing over like a dirty wave.
“Hardiman’s waiting fer ya,” he told him, and as Simon stood said; “He seems ta be in a good mood. Ya might get lucky, an get yerself a spot here. Always lookin’ fer a few good sec-men. And ya look like ya kin handle yerself. That kin only work fer ya.”
Dave lead him along a hallway, the same one he had followed from the motorpool, the sec-man’s constant yammering about the virtues of Rykerville sec-work causing Simon to briefly daydream about strangling him.
They came to a door simply marked ‘Sec-chief’.
The air here was cleaner that in the other room, the constant cool breeze letting Simon know that the air-conditioner for the building was working, showing some technical expertise was present in the ville.
What else did they have here?
The door opened smoothly under Dave’s hand, and Simon stepped in, seeing the tall-backed swivel chair facing away from him. His heart began to race, and a light sweat filmed his forehead as he fought to control the anger that threatened to overwhelm him.
His fingers lingered over the blaster at his side.
Mary’s laughing face danced before his mind’s eye, and that both calmed him, and stoked the fire.
Next time, he may not be able to force it back.
The door swung shut but, unseen by Simon, staring intently at the chair, was caught and eased open again, only the dirty fingertips of the door opener visible.
Simon cleared his throat.
The chair moved slightly, but didn’t swing around.
“Chief Hardiman?” Simon asked, and at that, the chair did turn around.
Hardiman sat there, his eyes contemplating the fanged skull he had taken from Mary’s mother’s house. The dead eyes of one monster looked into the living eyes of another.
For an instant, Graydon half expected Hardiman to start reciting Shakespere.
Then a stench assaulted his nostrils.
Instinct flared, and Simon spun, seeing only a silver flash as the short hafted axe swung towards him.
He felt only a brief pain, then he spiraled into the darkness.