“So, I see you got the lock open.”

“You motherfuckin’ cocksucker!” she spat. “Do you know what I went through here? What they did to me? What they were going to do? Do you even care?”

“Truthfully, yes,” Simon replied, never taking his eyes off hers. He noted the shaking of her hands, making the blaster waver. “But I needed you. I needed the distraction you provided, keeping Hardiman’s men off me…”

“Bullshit!” she yelled, her voice cracking. “Hardiman said that he had been expecting you, that the Baron told him you’d come! You didn’t need me! The sec-men would’ve let you right in! You didn’t need me!”

Simon lunged to the side, the blaster barking in Elsbeth’s hands, the bullet snapping as it passed his head. The slug ricocheted off the wall, hitting the floor, taking a chunk from the stone. Graydon could hear her shriek of frustration as she struggled to bring the .45 back down in line with him, the recoil having driven it up.

He caught her wrists in his hands, his grip like a vise. All he had to do was bear down, twist his torso, and she would be on her back, helpless for the length of time he needed to kill her.

But he couldn’t. For the first time, indecision tugged at him.

After all, it was his fault she was here. She’d be free and clear if…

Elsbeth, seeing the indecision in his eyes brought her knee up, hitting Simon between the legs, smiling with sadistic, insane glee as she saw his dark face turn pale.

Simon stayed on his feet, more by the fact he still had a grip on Elsbeths wrists than by his own will. He felt his heart flutter, and his knees began to buckle, and suddenly he felt the floor hit his shoulder, and the warmth of urine flowed across his leg as he lost control of his bladder.

Then he felt the impact of Elsbeth kicking at him, flipping him over, the sole of her foot stomping down, striking him in the stomach, her own mind so completely filled with the need to inflict her pain on the man who had led to it, that she forgot, or simply ignored the fact she still held the blaster in her hand, and could have ended it with a single bullet.

Elsbeth’s cool, professional manner had fled when she’d laid her eyes on the dark haired man.

Her toes caught in the gash in his ribs, left by the skulker’s spike, tearing open the scabbed over wound, the blood beginning to flow. Her heel caught his injured head, slamming it down against the floor, igniting sparks behind his eyes, which were becoming heavy, hard to keep open. The blows began to register only as pressure. The pain was fading. Simon could feel his mind floating.

So good, he thought. So good to just let go…no more pain, no more Deathlands…

No more Maryyyyy… whispered that cold voice in the back of his head. If this woman beats you to death, who will help Maryyyy…the voice was becoming fainter.

Mary, Simon thought. He saw her face swim up, smiling, laughing the way that she did, her very soul reaching out and touching him with the sound…


Simon surged up from beneath the blows, nearly slipping in the pool of warmth that had gathered beneath him. His vision came back with a vengeance, tinged with red, and his vision sharpened on the face of the silver haired woman who had, until a moment before, been methodically beating him to death.

Elsbeth’s eyes widened as the man she’d been kicking stood, piss dripping down his legs and blood oozing from a wound in his side, and sprang towards her, his gritted teeth white against the flush that had begun to creep across his face, the fire that had flared up in his eyes threatening to spill out.

She remembered the gun in her hand, and raised it.

His arm swung out, catching the blaster, his grip twisting it down, the detonation searing the side of his thigh, the bullet smashing the floor again, glancing off and burying itself in the plastered ceiling.

Another twist, and the gun was now held, barrel first, by Simon.

He raised his hand to strike down, in his minds eye seeing the grip of the blaster hitting her, shattering bone as the weapon hit her temple.

Simon didn’t hear the whirring until it was too late.

His gun hand was pulled back by a whirling cord, the sheer weight and force driving him against the one beam in the jail house, the slender steel bar adorned with a single set of manacles, and long streaks of blood.

The whirling cord wrapped its remaining length around the steel beam, used by Hardiman and his men as a whipping post, trapping Simon’s arm.

He tried to pull his arm free, the red mist filling his vision blinding him to his body’s pain, and likely in this berserker state, would have broken the limb in his desire to kill.

He saw a shapeless form hovering over the girl he wanted to murder, waving its one exposed hand over her face, catching her as she slumped.

Simon pulled his arm free of the leather cord, releasing the blaster, and relaxing the taut muscle, giving him enough slack to slip out.

The figure just stood there as Simon charged, the killing rage that the woman had awoken in him wanting nothing more than something to kill, to feel the hot blood flow, to bathe in it.

The hand that was hidden came out, fast, releasing a cloud of powder into the air, stinging Graydon’s eyes and nose, the sweet cloying smell of death seeping into him.

Then his limbs lost all their strength, the hot rage turning suddenly cold. He stumbled, and was caught by the figure.

His face pressing into the tattered clothing, Simon fell into the darkness again, this time smelling the sharpness of sewers and waste.




Mary gulped water, hoping to ease the soreness of her throat, scraped raw by the intensity of the screams she had given voice to.

She’d woken up in yet another room, this one with a single bed, covered in blankets, clothing draped over the foot, a dark blue carpet, thick and plush, new looking, and unlike the carpeting she had seen before in Rykerville, covering the floor.

She had looked around the sparsely decorated room, the white walls making the lights in the room seem brighter, digging into her head, bringing back the memory of the last thing she had seen in that other room, the descending needles coming for her eyes, the pain from the needle in her stomach too much to bear…the darkness just before the needles touched…

She blinked back tears, the salt stinging her eyes as they flowed.

People don’t come out…the same.

What had the Baron done to her?

Her arms were dotted with marks…like someone had stuck a pin into her arms over and over…

            Her eyes settled on a doorway, opened to reveal a bathroom.

She stumbled from the bed, making a beeline to the other room, barely making it to the toilet before she vomited, the bitter bile a mere trickle, showing it had been a long time since she had eaten.

Mary looked at her arms, felt a sharp relief that her skin was unmarked.

She stood shakily, noticing for the first time that she was still naked, and that she had lost some weight, her skin stretched tightly over muscle.

The girl turned the tap, letting cold water flow into her hands, splashing it over her face and the back of her neck, feeling more awake now. She cupped her hands, letting them fill with water, and raised it to her mouth, rinsing and spitting.

She looked into the mirror, seeing that the skin of her face was pinched, tightly pulled.

Her stomach growled, and she looked down, saw that her skin was unblemished around where she had felt the needle pushing in. She pressed on it slightly, but felt no pain.

How long had she been asleep?

How long since she had eaten?

At the thought of food, even the sludge she had gotten from the cafeteria, her mouth began to water, and she found herself walking toward the clothing on the bed, and she began pulling it on, preparing to go out.

Into the unknown.

As she finished dressing, she felt a chill, like a cold draught had caressed her. She looked toward the bathroom, the thought that she had missed or forgotten something tugging at her.

But her stomach rumbled again, and all thoughts other than of food were chased out.

She pushed open the door, and walked out, not noticing that she felt no fear of what lay beyond, or of the mutant creatures the Baron kept here.





Green eyes watched the monitor as it received information from the devices sewn into the clothing Mary now wore.

Heartbeat steady and strong.

Pulse regular; body temperature a perfect thirty-seven degrees Celsius.


So far everything was going perfectly.

Laughter echoed.



Hardiman, scorched and furious, watched as yet another building caught fire in the strengthening breeze, the hint of sulfur growing stronger, threatening to overpower the scent of gas and scorched oil and the cloying smell of sizzling pork.

Crews, trained to fight the occasional fire that started from a carelessly tossed torch or an overturned lantern were completely overwhelmed by this blazing conflagration, desperately starting up bucket lines, violently conscripting people to lug bucket after bucket, each brimming with water from a well that shimmered red in the falling darkness, reflecting the hell that Rykerville truly was.

The light also reflected in Hardimans red cats-eye, flaring for an instant as a building, one of the Baron’s best gaudies collapsed, the blazing shower of sparks swirling up, a glowing swarm of elemental locusts searching for its next victim.

He blinked as he saw a man, wreathed in flames stumble from the inferno, screaming, the sounds growing hoarse as the heated air scorched his lungs bit by bit. The big man watched as he stumbled and then fell, still trying to move, even as the fire stripped skin to the bone.

Hardiman snagged one of the men directing the buckets as he ran by.

“Get this fire contained,” Hardiman snarled, lips over teeth pulling back in a feral rage. “Or I’ll break your legs and throw you in it!”

The man, his bright clothing proclaiming him to be a gaudy owner, drew himself up, and pulled his arm out of the Sec-chiefs grip. “I’m doing the best I can, but this fire’s getting out of control. The wind is driving it straight to the Baro…”

The man’s speech ended as Hardiman gripped his throat, and said; “I didn’t ask for excuses.”

Then he crushed the man’s throat and dropped him, watching for a moment as the brightly dressed figure flopped about on the ground, kicking out his life.

He glared at the men who had stopped, and were even now watching the man die. They all seemed to feel as one the weight of  Hardiman’s stare, and looked up, to see him glowering at them.

“Put it out,” Hardiman said quietly. “Or when the ashes settle, I’ll be coming for you. All of you.”

They scurried away.

“Now for you, Simon.”





Hardiman arrived back at the jailhouse to find a group of his men pounding on the door, trying to force their way inside.

The Sec-chief grabbed the greasy locks of Bray, the stench of the mutie nearly making Hardiman gag.

He shook the swampie. “What’s happening, Bray?” he demanded. “What fool locked the sec-men out?”

Bray rasped, barely heard above the sounds of shouting and screaming; “Guard went in, think dead. Can smell blood getting cold from inside. Think blackhair chiller chilled him.”

“No,” whispered Hardiman, releasing the mutie. Though Bray had a stench that would make people puke if he passed too close, the Sec-chief had no reason to doubt his mutie abilities, such as his ability to survive mortal wounds.

Or the ability he had to scent prey.

“NO!” Hardiman shouted. The sec-men gathered around the door scattered, those too slow were trampled by Hardiman, one falling, then getting the big man’s foot on the back of his neck.

The last thing he heard was his own vertebrae crunching.

Hardiman’s foot shot out, shaking the door. He rammed his shoulder into it, felt the bolt holding it beginning to give. He drew back, began kicking the door again, each blow making the door shudder, each impact widening the space that was now beginning to show.

Hardiman’s sec-force drew back, and some of them slunk off, and began to fight the fires while others merely hit the gates, heading off into the night.

Better to die fighting a mutie, these men thought, than being around Hardiman when he’s like this.

With a shriek the door gave way, the bolt holding, but the brackets were pulled from the wall, and swung on the extended bolt like a mocking decoration.

Hardiman stormed in, found this; one lone sec-man, naked and hung to the whipping post, his head held on only by some gristle and the gleaming red and grey of his spine.

A coil of blood clotted wire was on the ground, stuck to the stone slabs that made up the floor by the blackening pool of congealing fluid.

And two open cells.

Both empty.

The sec-men that had lingered turned and sprinted to join their colleagues at either the fires or the gates as Hardiman’s roar of insane rage sang out, the sound drowning, for an instant, the screams and the shouts and the roaring of the firestorm outside.




Off in the distance, white-hot chem lightning flickered.




Mary looked out a window, and reasoned she was now in the building she had seen from before, the chaos below and the balcony across the way confirming it.

The scene below hadn’t changed, she noticed. Figures still moved, slowly or quickly, whips falling soundlessly outside the thick glass she stood behind. They carried bundled things, what looked like cases or boxes, and they carried each other, throwing the weakened bodies onto a cart that was immediately pushed away to some unknown destination.

They bore the deformities Mary had seen on the muties that had pursued her, but some of these were much worse.

She saw a woman, carrying a bucket filled with dirt, dumping it with trembling hands then collapsing to the ground, clawing at her back, ripping off the coarse shirt she wore, revealing the mutant growth on her back, a child that had no face, but a single aperture that had adhered to the space just below her shoulder blades. Mary could see the muscles of the child-leech-growth working, draining it’s host.

A black masked overseer strode over, and brought down the whip he held, leaving a stripe across the parasite.

But it was the woman who reared back and screamed.

She struggled to her feet, bare-breasted, and began to trundle off again, the leeching mutant nursing happily as they passed a man dragging a third leg like a tail.

“She’s interesting, isn’t she?”

Mary started, turned to see the familiar robed and cowled form of Baron Ryker. He stood there, his height a little above normal, the robes disguising the fact that he was hunched over, taking nearly two feet off.

Her mind spun a little, remembering the brief glimpse of the so-called man.

She got the impression of great size, well over Hardimans six-and-a-half feet, and muscular definition that was so impossible, it was obscene.

“She was a wonderful subject. She was a mutant, though she didn’t know it, and likely wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t found her. She was pregnant,” Mary suppressed a shudder. “with her father’s child. A common practice in the very clannish ville I found her in, I’m told. They were nothing more than simpering idiots anyway, rife with inbred deformities.”

Ryker moved past Mary, looking down. “I altered the genetic structure of the child, with absolutly no idea what would happen.” He turned, looked at Mary with shaded eyes. “My studies were still hit and miss back then. The result, however, was truly astounding. The child, when it was born, began nursing, as all babies do. But in the night, the child crawled…only one day old, and it crawled! behind his sleeping mother and anchored itself there, his face molding itself to her flesh, his jaws disjointing  like a snakes, and four hidden teeth unsheathed, latching onto her.”

The Baron chuckled, Mary finding it a chilling sound.

“She screamed for hours, unable to move from the agony her offspring was causing her. I merely thought that he was consuming her from the inside, but I was wrong. The child was sending out from it’s body fine cilia-like filaments, each one burrowing into his mother, attaching to bone and muscle and nerves.”

“You noticed that she screamed when the guard whipped the child? That is because of the joining. She feels everything that the child feels, the pleasure of feeding or the pain of being struck.”

“That’s horrible,” Mary said. The Baron shook his head.

“But you haven’t heard the most extraordinary part, Dear Mary. She never sleeps now, and her strength is three times that of a normal woman. Her stamina has also increased considerably.”

“It’s because of that thing?”

“Yes! It makes her stronger, so she can fight for more food. It makes her more durable, so she can survive the rigors of near anything other than mortal injury, and even then…well, I haven’t learned enough yet to lose such a valuable specimen.”

“You said she was already a mutie, and she didn’t know it.”

“Yes, yes…I did, didn’t I? Her celluar structure was most…mallable, let’s say. I could shape it like clay on a potter’s wheel, metaphorically speaking.”

Her voice almost cracked when she spoke next. She had to turn, so the Baron wouldn’t see the fear in her eyes.

“Did you do that to me?”


“Then what did you do? Did you just torture me with those machines? For what? Pleasure? Are you a sick chiller like Hardiman?” Of course, she already knew the answer to that.

Hardiman learned from someone.

“Patience, Mary. You must learn patience. You will learn all…in time.”

There was silence, then.

Mary knew, without turning, that the Baron was gone.

But the fear remained.




Nearly the whole upper part of Rykerville was gone.

The dead lay in the streets, some of them fused together by the blast furnace heat of the fire. Dogs and rats began to gather in the darkness, eyes glinting in the gloom, noses twitching at the scent of the cooked meat wafting in the damp wind.

In the end, the sec-men’s efforts to extinguish the fire had come to naught, some of them bursting into flames while still yards away from the blaze.

A sudden chemstorm had swept in, dumping water on the burning town, while a twisting tornado sucked up the flames and burning debris, becoming, for a few brief seconds a massive tower of fire, reaching up to the sky. Blue-white and purple-red chemlightning curtained the sky, giving the sky a writhing, living omnipotence, absolute power blazing with the power of a world still insane.

Nearly a quarter of the population was dead.

Nearly all the homes here, abodes of the holders of the town’s wealth were gone, just swirling soot remaining.

Ironically, the poorer section of the ville, the part of the town that some said needed the fire, was untouched.

Hunched in their alleys and hovels, their gaudies and small gambling houses, the people watched as the fire consumed the homes of the people they had once wanted to be. Now, with their wealth and power gone along with their fortified homes, they would be coming to claim what the untouched part had.

Knives were pulled out, the rusted blades put to the stone. Blasters, carefully hidden were revealed again, loaded with precious bullets, or packed with powder and ball.

Bricks and boards and old rusted pipes, made even deadlier with weights and nails and whipping barbed wire were collected, handed out to trusted allies and family, each pair of eyes going dead as the weapons were received.





A figure was looking out a window, when a door opened up, and a man’s voice spoke.

“Fire’s out.”

“How bad?” said the figure, her warm voice flowing.

“Uptown’s crapped out,” was the reply.

She turned, drew the curtain, then turned up the oil lamp, revealing her almond shaped eyes and delicate features. She looked at the man, his hair standing out nearly a foot from his head.

“Do you think they’ll come here?” Tanna asked.

Sam said; “Well, I don’t bet against a man showing three kings. And I sure don’t bet against a man with nothin’ left to lose. They’ll be comin’, like screamwings to a howlin’ dog.”

“I’ll get the girls.”

“Already done,” Sam said. “Sorry you stayed?”

Tanna smiled, walked over to Sam, and kissed the gangle-limbed man.

“I wouldn’t have missed it, Sam.”

Then she put out the light, and together, the two walked out the door.




Simon wheezed, his lungs taking a deep breath for the first time in hours. If it weren’t for the fact he desperately needed the oxygen, he’d have gagged on the sewer stench.

“So, de boy wakes at last.” Graydon heard an accented voice say. He tried to open his eyes and was surprised to find they opened easily. He felt the warmth of clothing on his skin, and looked down, seeing the faded bloodstains that had refused to wash out. The clothing had a familiar look…

“Dey belonged to de sec-man you chill in de jail,” said the voice. Simon sat up, found that his head was bandaged when he put his hands to his temples to fight off the dizziness that hit him.

“Where am I?” Simon asked. The voice laughed.

“First, let de powdar run it’s course. Den, I will tell you what you want to know.”

“I’m fine.”

“Really? Den try to move your legs.”

Simon grinned at the challenge in the words, then the smile changed to a worried frown. “What the fuck?” he exclaimed, realizing only now that he couldn’t feel his legs, nor force them to move.

“As I said, let de powder run it’s course. Den we will talk.”

Simon lay back down, feeling his body’s energy draining away. He could feel his heart thundering in his chest, as his lungs began to breathe faster and shallower, drawing in less air.

“Can’t breathe…” he gasped. His eyesight, blurring again, saw only a shapeless form appear before him. “Can’t…”

“Don’t worry,” the voice said. “The dust is losing its strength. You’ll be dead only for a little while.”

Graydon felt his heartbeat suddenly slow.

His last conscious thought was that he now knew the accent.

It sounded like…Haitian.




Mary sat back, putting down the book she had been reading.

Her mother had taught her the arcane art of literacy, and she had been proud of the fact she could read and write. But as she read the books around her, stacked twelve feet high, and covering the walls of this huge hundred-foot chamber, she realized that her skills were woefully overrated.

She had been reading a book entitled History Of The Twentieth Century, and had marveled at the occurrences described within, wars fought in lands far away, commonplace machines that flew, traveling the world in a day.  Medicines, miracles and curses.

Food for everyone.


No muties, no Barons, no sec-chiefs tramping in at night, taking your family away.

That is, she thought that until she found the section pertaining to the communist witch hunts, where the government took on the characteristics of it’s worst enemy in weeding out anyone who didn’t fit in their version of American values.

Then she found herself looking for other people, blackhearts who had used their power, and been used by it.

And she found them.

She began gathering books, using a card directory she had reasoned out how to use, the tomes piling up on the table she had been reading at, spines revealing a chilling litany.





Pol Pot

The pile grew higher…







The Siberian Gulag.

Then she began reading, finding out about the Barons and the pestholes and the chillerfreaks that had lived over a hundred years before.

And beyond.

She had been here for nearly a week.




“Here you are, child.”

“Thank you, Mother,” Simon said, taking the proffered teacup, the porcelain clattering slightly. The delicate, lovely black woman laughed, her teeth flashing. Her dark eyes flashed too, joy within shining out.

“We have to talk, you and I,” she said, her laughter still in the air.

Simon shivered suddenly. The air itself turned dark, a hint of smoke and cooking meat on the edge of his tongue. He could feel the heat of a fire at his back, the touch of hot sparks and soot on the back of his neck. He blinked, and for an instant, he swore he could see others, faces dancing about like fireflies in the corners of his eyes.

“ I gave Mary what I could, all the love I had for her. She faces trials now that you cannot imagine, tortures and horrors and agonies that even a madman would shy from.” Her hand moved up, almost touched his face. “You know that I am a seer. I see things when I use the cards. Some use jolt to free their minds, some use pain or sex to transcend their bodies. We all have something to give us focus, some thing that frees us to see, yet anchors us so we may return to tell what the future may hold.” Her hand finally reached out, touched his cheek.

Her flesh was cool on his face, which had become hot from the fire. He saw soot falling around them like black snow, clinging to her sleeve, coming to rest on her face.

“For a time, you have transcended. You will never come to this place again in life, so take what knowledge you can back.”


“Mary’s pain grows within her now, becomes a part of her. She tries to ignore it, thinking that she is sick. Her dreams scream like the air about her. She drinks water and sweats flesh and blood. She eats more and more, but grows thin.”

“She needs focus. She must be made to come back, to tell what she has seen.”

The heat had grown greater, and Graydon felt his hair, swaying in the hot breeze beginning to singe, the blackness of the curling strands matching the black flakes that grew thicker.


“You must give her focus…or the Baron will…”

The fire roared, and her voice began to fade.

“She needs you…”

His arms and legs hurt, throbbing as the flames began to burn him.


He watched as the flames raced past him, licking along like it followed a trail of gas, running up her legs, he watched her begin to burn, face melting, hair flaring up like a halo…

His heart slammed in his chest.

His skin began to blister.

“MOTHER!!!! What about…………..”




A man in a ragged cowl looked down on the man swathed in blankets, covered in greasy sweat. A fire burned near him, the steel pot that held it sending beams of red-gold light through the holes punched in it for air.

The cowled man turned his head, looked into a single green eye.

“He returns.”

The emerald eye blinked once.

And Simon Graydon, man from the past, opened his eyes and screamed out:




Mary’s head jerked up from where she had laid it, sleep swept away from her like dust before an approaching storm.

She had dreamed. She had heard a voice, so clearly that she looked around.




The Baron’s eyes widened as he watched Mary sleep. The readings from the instruments showed a sudden temperature rise, even as the EEG monitor showed a spike that nearly shot off the screen.

On the video, Mary sat up.




He moved stiffly, every muscle in his body aching from the convulsions that wracked them from time to time. The stench of the sewers had faded away, his body acclimatizing itself to the noxious fumes. His hands trembled, one, gloved in heavy leather resting on the moss smeared wall, the other holding aloft a guttering torch, made from drifting wood and old, oil-soaked rags. A tattered blanket draped his shoulders.

Graydon stood in ankle deep water, though damp water marks showed that the water had been much higher not that long before. He noted the charred rat carcasses that drifted by.

Simon looked up, the tendons of his neck standing out as he fought the exhaustion that pulled at him, his eyes blood-shot and glazed.

“How much longer,” he panted, causing his companion of the past few days to pause.

He turned, his green eye glittering in the darkness, while the other eye gleamed dully as light reflected from the cataract that blinded it. He shook his head.

Simon hadn’t really expected an answer anyway. The green-eyed man, called Zeb by the Houngan  never spoke, only grunted. He’d only asked so that Zeb would hold up, and let him catch his breath.

Simon had only been awake for a day and a half.

He had been down here for a week.

While Mary suffered at the hands of Baron Ryker.

The fear he felt drove him up, off the cot of rags and straw that the Skulkers had built for him when he had been brought down here. He had stumbled around, looking like a new-born colt taking it’s first steps. He’d heard laughter, and felt anger rising, temporarily driving the weakness away.

When he stood steady for those few short seconds, his fists clenched and eyes glaring, the laughter quickly choked off.

Snapping his mind back to the present, he watched as Zeb pulled aside a piece of near-rotted plywood, revealing a narrow passage.

He pointed, first at Graydon, then at the tunnel.

Then he turned, and limped off into the darkness, disappearing before Simon could say anything.

Gritting his teeth, he pulled the ragged blanket around himself tighter, and holding the torch before him, proceeded into the unknown.

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