The rains had started again, huge drops hitting the ground with the force of the heavens enraged.
Purple and blue lightning lit the sky, which though it was near noon, was as black as pitch. Cold winds whipped, chilling any caught out to the bone.
The crowd around Sam’s had thinned somewhat, most returning to other houses, other businesses, spoils taken in the little civil war, the yellow lamplights shining from windows, the sobbing of widows and orphans echoing down hallways even as their menfolk and fathers fed the wild dogs that had somehow managed to sneak into the ville from outside.
The people that remained however, were the most dangerous. Most had the gaunt look of starving wolves, each willing to turn on the other if it could give them the chance to claim what was within those walls. These were the opportunists, those who had little, but were willing to throw everything in on the throw of a hat, willing to kill and torture and commit any number of atrocities to get what they considered should be theirs.
Hands gripped axes, clubs and blades tightly, water running down, for once fairly pure with none of the bitterness of acid. Their blasters, what there were of them, were tucked away. Most of them were single shot muzzle-loaders, useless in the downpour.
Eyes stared, lit with greed and madness.
Sam was taking a turn sleeping, as were most of the gaudies. Morgan prowled restlessly, avoiding the slip-traps of poker chips on the floor. Tucked into his belt were the two blasters, the .38 now empty, the .45 holding only one round, which he was saving for himself.
He held the broken leg of one of the tables in his left hand, the heavy oak making it a deadly club.
Morgan Garret scanned the room, his gaze lingering for an instant on the oriental girl in the corner, her dark eyes closed.
She was beautiful, Morgan thought. His eyes flicked over to the window as lightning lit the outside with the roar of a dying giant.
He looked back, and his eyes met Tanna’s open ones. She smiled slightly, and Morgan, for the first time in his life, felt self-conscious under the gaze of another.
He grinned, then turned away, shuffling off on his rounds.
Sam watched the two of them, stifled a chuckle, then slipped back into the sleep the thunder had brought him out of.
Simon and the Priest stopped at a junction, where three tunnels branched off.
“De left,” Simon was told, “will take you to Lowtown, where dere is fighting still. De center once would have taken you to within spitting distance of de Baron’s keep, but it was blocked months ago by a rockfall. The right will take you to de mid-point, de place between Uptown and Lowtown. I cannot say which one would be de best, but dere be fightin’ in Lowtown, like I said. Lot’s of tired folk, lots with better weapons den what we give.”
“All right,” he said. He looked down, noticed that a thin stream of water had begun to run down a well-worn runnel in the floor.
“It be raining again,” the cowled man said. Simon grunted in reply.
“Maybe it’ll wash the blood from my hands.”
“It’s a stain of the soul you got, my boy. Water, not even full of acids’ll get that clean. Only you can do that. But now ain’t the time. You gotta use what you got. You gotta be blacker den pitch, colder than ice. Do what’s gotta be done. Find the girl, ‘cause she gives you the light to cleanse the darkness. I can hear it in your voice, see it every time you t’ink of her. Find Hardiman, or none of us will find peace. Find de Baron, and give him his due, for he has debts, I feel. And soon, the bony hand’ll come out of de dark, clutchin’ for it’s payment.”
Simon had moved behind the cowled man, who hadn’t moved. His right hand slowly drifted over, reaching to pull the hood back, and reveal the face hidden within.
His hand stopped only a hair from it.
“Go ahead,” said the man, unmoving. And Simon suddenly didn’t want to know what was below the lines of that hood.
He felt it wasn’t his place to know.
“No need,” he said. “Thank you for your help. I don’t know…”
The man cut him off with the wave of a rag wrapped hand. “Like you said, no need.”
Simon nodded, then set off, turning left at the branch-off.
Just past the rockfall that the priest had talked about, a scraping sound could be heard. An echo of crumbling stone was lost almost as it began, becoming a memory an instant after it was born.
In an alley, not more than a hundred yards from Sam’s place, stones lifted from the rubbish filled cobblestone ground, revealing a passage beneath, the stones themselves anchored to a plate of sheet metal, counterweighted from below with ropes and bags of stones.
It was weighted at one end, hinged at the other, clicking as a well-oiled catch seated when it closed, showing no trace of being there.
The figure that had pulled itself up from the hidden trapdoor kicked rubbish, old hides, bits of wood over the stones, completely wiping out any traces of the door’s existence.
Unseen in the darkness, the figure looked about, got its bearings. The head turned slightly as a ragged cheer echoed from the streets beyond.
Hair slicking back from the rain, Simon headed towards the noise, aware only of the surging of his blood as he began to take control of his destiny again, lost when he had come into this pesthole, searching for the light to his soul.
Mary watched as the slaves worked, prodded on by the overseers. Her head still ached, though at least she could see clearly now, not though a mist of squint-eyed fog.
She had lost track of the time she had been down here now. No sun, no general times for food, nothing.
She had read many of the books in the library, both printed and disk –stored, marveling at the miracles until the Baron’s voice had turned the sweetness of learning into rot. Whenever Mary thought of him, of what the robe truly covered, she grew cold from raging hate and dizzy from red-hot anger.
And through it all, she missed her lost child, stolen from her by Hardiman and cruel fate, and her lover, lost to her in the unknown.
Mary’s eyes were drawn to a commotion as one slave, whose deformities seemed to consist of a skin too large for his small frame and limp residual limbs that hung down from his armpits like tentacles held something out to the leather masked overseer, who took it and lashed the man across the face, the braided rawhide strips gouging down to the bone, pieces of flesh and drops of blood splashing on the faces of those who had stopped nearby.
Hungry and thirsty, these little bits of food weren’t wasted as dirt-stained fingers smeared and picked and drew down towards gap-toothed mouths.
Those who stood too long received lashes themselves, and soon the entire “herd” of slaves were working again.
The Overseer looked at whatever he held, taken from the slave, and began running towards the building that Mary stood in, dashing under the balcony she stood on.
Mary’s skin prickled as she sensed a change in the air, a new tension.
Something was going to happen.
The first man had no idea.
Half –blind from the rain, he watched as two men fought with flashing blades in the darkness to the cheers of the crowd around them, sputtering torches and crackling lightning giving both inconsistent and blinding light.
The cause of the duel was unknown. It could have been from a muttered insult to old rivalries to mere greed. In the Deathlands, it truly didn’t matter what it was about.
What mattered though, was the ending.
He had only a prickle of danger, that sense of someone standing close before he felt a searing pain slam into the side of his neck, hot and cold waves causing his arms and legs to go weak, numbness setting in just after he felt his bladder release.
The last thing he heard was the cheering.
Simon dragged his victim back into the darkness of the alleyway he’d struck from. Ignoring the stink of blood and urine, he searched the corpse, stripping from it a powderhorn, a small pouch of flints for the muzzle-loading longbarrel he had strapped to his back, another pouch counterslung to the horn holding lead balls, padding and dried meat jerky of questionable origin.
Graydon also took a long-bladed knife from the man he’d just chilled, sheathed lengthwise across the small of his back. It was rust spotted, but the double-edge of the ten-inch man-chiller shone silver in the intermittent lightning that dodged between the sheets of rain to strike nearby.
He slipped the belt on, slid the blade into the sheath, feeling the weapon seat as a magnet sewn into the leather held it snugly, allowing for a quick draw.
He adjusted the hachet.
Lastly, Graydon pulled the spike from the neck of the corpse.
He looked up to see the duel was over, a double chilling the result. One man had a knife sticking out from under his ribs, the blade impaling the heart, while the other kicked out his life as blood spurted from the red wound that stretched across his throat.
Simon knew he was close to Sam’s, and for an instant, Tanna’s face flashed behind his eyes. Had she gotten out, before the firestorm? Was she still here, sightless eyes staring up, or screaming from under a tormentor’s body?
Scuffles were already breaking out, as men jockeyed to grab the blades and strip the wet bodies.
No, Simon thought. She’d had her chance days back, when he’d given her a fortune in Rykerville jack. If she was still here, it was by her own choice.
He couldn’t help Mary, not if he got killed here for a stranger…
With a face carved from cold stone, Simon faded back into the darkness, turning on his heel, heading towards the Baron’s Keep with his eyes searching the gloom for another chance to add to his weapons.
The work had stopped.
Mary watched as slaves dropped buckets and tools at the command of the Overseers, punctuated by the hiss-snap! of whips.
Some of them huddled together, residual memories of what they had been before Baron Ryker had changed them coming out, at least for a while.
She remembered what the Baron had said to her, just few days before, when she asked where the slaves had come from. She barely remembered him coming into her room, because of the headache spiking through her brain, but after taking a bitter drink from a glass his gloved hand held, her pain subsided to bearable levels.
She hadn’t spoken to anyone for a long time, except to curse Ryker and Hardiman under her breath, so she held back her revulsion of the hooded figure before her, and conversed.
The Baron, seemingly eager for an audience, told her of the works ‘he had wrought’ in this place, of the things he had done and created, hinting a little at the plans he had for the future, a future that would herald a new age for the world, where he would be Lord of All.
She heard him tell of the people he’d brought here, of the gatherings from out flung villes and pesthole towns, from primitive peoples giving over their young as sacrifice, to slavers being jumped on the roads and made slaves themselves, chained to their victims until they all became equal here, under the power of Baron Ryker’s genetic tampering.
He said that if she looked closely at them, she may recognize some familiar faces, people from Rykerville who’d gone to ‘start’ another ville.
And from that moment on, she’d stopped thinking of the slaves as people, but just as things from a nightmare. If she kept thinking of what these people had been, could have been, she knew that she would start crying, and never stop.
But she thought of Ryker, and she thought of Hardiman.
And with red-tinged vision.
She was snapped out of her reverie as the voice of Baron Ryker boomed.
He was standing there, among them. They gazed up with adoration, those that could gaze up, that is. The others merely bowed and scraped at his feet, worshipfully.
Mary found herself drawn to those eyes. Ignoring the body that housed them, those eyes drew her with the force of a black hole, pulling her deep. She could feel herself becoming aroused as those eyes caressed her, and she drew back in sudden shock as he blinked, breaking his hold. She diverted her gaze, ashamed at the sheer need that coursed through her, and finally understood why he was followed by so many, why those that he’d changed in such a blasphemous way would slave so dutifully for him.
He was Power.
And power is one of the most seductive things in the world.
May turned, and ran back to her room.
She knew she had to leave, escape, get free of this…this pit of hell, where the Devil himself ruled.
The Baron’s voice rumbled on.
“My children,” the Baron said, his voice strong, carrying over the keening of the slaves that pawed at him. “The time has come. All the labors you have done, all the hardships endured, all the pain suffered is now at an end.”
He held out a piece of rock, slimed and pitted, over the reaching hands of his ‘children’. “This was found but hours ago, pulled from beyond the earth and bedrock you have been moving. The time has come, my children, for you to breathe the free air again.”
The creatures oohed! and began their keening again.
“I give you release, my children. I give you freedom! I give you food in abundance, and hot red wine to drink with it! I give you the task to which we all been born for! You will sweep out! You will cleanse the land! You will be my hands, my eyes and my body! You will take that which was changed, and change it again! All will be remade…IN MY IMAGE!!!” The Baron stood there, his arms outflung, his palms up, talons pointing to the stone roof and the stars above.
The Baron’s ‘children’ roared, and the image of Hell was complete.
Mary tore another strip of bedsheet, braiding it into two other strips, knotting it onto another piece, tugging it to test it’s strength.
She had to escape.
She had to.
Tanna looked out, seeing fewer people milling about, fewer torches sputtering in the rain.
Sam looked over her shoulder, into the darkness beyond.
“People are starting to leave,” she muttered.
“Blood thirst’s starting to burn out,” Sam replied. He turned back to the bar, where his blades sat, next to a honing stone that gleamed with oil. “Most’ll start moving on as they calm down. Even Bobby Ray’s shut up, or been chilled, so there ain’t no-one to keep the pot stirred. Hardiman ain’t been seen for awhile ‘cause of the fightin’ around the Keep, or so I heard’em saying outside. People are tired, cold and wet. You’d have to be double-crazed to be able to keep a stiff dick for this corpse of a town in this weather.”
“You think anybody’ll try again?” Morgan said, swinging the table leg he held as he walked into the room. He’d just come back from waking one of the gaudies to take a turn at the barrels.
Sam nodded. “Sure they will. But like I said, they’ll be double-crazed from the fighting, and the wet, and all the blood they’ve spilled. They’ll like as not bust in, and set the place alight themselves.”
“But why would they do that?” Tanna asked. “After doing all they’ve done, why would they destroy the Casino if they have a chance at getting it?”
“ ‘Cause they’re crazed. They’ll chill fer no other reason than they want to. Or because they can. That’s what crazies do.”
“We don’t have the blasterpower to hold back another rush,” Morgan said, setting down his club. He leaned against the bar, looked at a bottle yet unbroken, then looked away. He knew that this wasn’t the time.
Sam sighed, looked at Tanna, then at Morgan. “Wake the other gaudies,” he said. “Get’em ripping bed sheets. Those bastards out there ain’t takin’ this place from me.”
The white-haired man looked out on the crowd milling in the darkness, and bared his teeth, barely holding back a snarl.
“They ain’t takin’ this place.”
One of Hardiman’s sec-men had fallen, the ragged man who’d backstabbed him scurrying off into the dark, hugging the wet, but still functional AK-47 close to his chest. He’d snagged two extra clips from the web-belt of the corpse before calling voices had driven him off.
His mind whirling with excitement and low-grade jolt, he didn’t see the figure until he literally ran into the outstretched arm, his feet going up and over.
Simon looked down on the fallen man, hefted the copper-weighted club he held, then saw the treasure the man had managed to hang onto.
He reached for it…
The bundle of jolt-crazed rags tittered, and a foot shot out, catching Simon on the thigh, the kick deceptively hard, sending the leg into painful shock.
Graydon gasped, and limped back, dragging his wounded leg. It began going into painful spasms as the traumatized muscle began to recover.
The fallen man stood, lined up his acquisition and with a flash of yellow and black teeth, squeezed the trigger.
Which didn’t move. Eyes widening, he slapped at the bolt, as if trying to force his will into the blaster, to make it fire from sheer want.
Detecting movement, flashing eyes glanced up, just in time to see the barbed end of Simon’s cudgel swinging at his eyes.
Simon felt the barbs catch at the man’s flesh, sticking for an instant before tearing through, robbing the man of half his sight, spattering the wet walls with dark fluid.
With a shriek, the man stumbled back, one hand releasing the blaster, and clutching at his face.
Simon kicked out, forgetting his injured leg for the moment, and collapsing as the weakened limb slid out from under him, the delivered blow barely staggering his opponent.
Simon looked up to see the butt of the rifle coming down at his head. He shifted instinctively, catching a painful blow that scraped down the side of his face. He kicked out with his good leg, and in a mirror of the instant before, hit the leg of the man, driving him back, clutching at his injury.
Using the cudgel, Simon levered himself up, and seeing the blaster swung like a club, parried the blow with his own weapon.
Mind blinded with pain, and stoked on jolt, the man began tittering again, and holding the barrel of the Russian-made blaster began swinging it again, the heavy wooden stock getting dangerously close.
Adrenaline chasing away the last of the pain in his leg, Simon leaned forward, the cudgel deflecting the rifle-butt far to the side, causing the newly half-blinded man to lose his balance, then drove his fist into the man’s face, the nose breaking, and for one sickening moment during his fist’s arc, lodging a knuckle in the man’s bleeding, empty socket.
Both hands released this time, and the blaster clattered to the ground.
Continuing his movement, Simon spun around, and the heel of his foot arced around and up, smashing into the side of the man’s head.
He fell like a log, actually sliding a little from the blow he’d received.
Quickly, Simon picked up the auto-blaster, checked it over with practiced ease, the clip was full, with a round under the pin. He was about to eject it, thinking it was a dud, when he looked the safety, and saw it was still on.
He heard snorting, and turned to see the man he’d been fighting snorting a palm full of whitish powder.
The man finished, then looked at Simon.
Then, eyes flashing in drugged bliss, he began to laugh, even as he struggled to rise.
He was still laughing when Simon brought the butt of the rifle down, the metal-backed stock smashing his jaw, and giggled up until the stock was brought down again, this time smashing the thin bone of the temple, shutting down the drug-addled mind instantly.
Breathing hard, Simon searched the body, finding a little of the jolt left in a greasy leather pouch, and the two clips for the blaster. He left the blood-encrusted knife he found on the body, the blade so over-honed that it was nothing more than a twin edged needle.
Using the man’s rope-belt, seemingly the one constant style of Deathland’s disenfranchised, Graydon fashioned a sling for the cudgel, hanging it over his shoulder like an archer with his bow.
Letting the blaster lead the way, Simon returned to his task of reaching the Keep.
“Knot the strips together, blast it!” Sam snarled at the gaudies as he walked by, a sloshing bucket in each hand. They knotted and tied as fast as they could, the strip of cloth getting longer and longer.
Sam carried the buckets into the stairway, clomping up the stairs. He turned into the room the packpeddler had been in, the one with the Indian blood and generous heart. Tanna had told him when she’d bargained for the share in the Casino, of how the man had given her the jack he’d won, and how he wanted her to use it to be safe.
Having friends and a place to live had seemed the best safety she could get.
Sam smiled grimly.
What a shitty world.
He threw the contents of the buckets against the walls.
He looked out the window when he was finished, breathed deeply.
The rain had stopped.
Mary braided the last strip into her makeshift rope.
Mark Macgregor, his long brown hair swirling, fell to the rain soaked ground and groaned, the hilt of a long-bladed knife sticking out of his back.
The steel butt-plate of a Russian assault blaster came down.
Mary smashed a boot into the repaired mirror in her room. Using a strip of towel, she wrapped the base of the longest piece.
She looked at her reflection in the curved shard.
Mary barely recognized the eyes that stared back.
Then she left the bathroom, stopping only to get the coil of braided rope she had made.
Mary glared at the covered sec-cam as it buzzed impotently under the green towel she had tossed over it.
Then, she opened the door, and walked out.
The monitor room where the Baron had spent so much time watching his captive lay empty, the chair with the broken arms immobile and unoccupied.
On the wall, where the monitors glowed, four were blank, one glowing a soft, fuzzy green, the other three only flashing with static.
Then the number came to five, the flash of a silver tray filling the screen until static exploded.
Mary held the serving tray she’d picked up from the cafeteria, watching as the sec-cam spit out the last few sparks of it’s life. The steel tray was good for smashing the black boxes, if little else, but there was something about holding the thing, something that, at least, gave her the illusion of having some control over her destiny.
She walked along the side of the hallway, trying to make as small a target as possible, in case some of the Baron’s pet muties or their Overseers came along.
But so far, they hadn’t.
She emerged on the balcony, crouching and then looking over the railing.
And saw nothing.
She stood, saw that the slaves were gone. She turned her head, saw the mound where the Baron had stood, where the Overseers had stood.
She was alone.
Feeling real hope for the first time, she uncoiled the rope, and looked for something to anchor it to.
Lock me on this level? she thought venomously. Shut the doors?
make my own way out, Baron.
The slime stained floor, just beyond the rockfall down in the sewers below Rykerville, fell in.
And from that pit, bubbled up demons.
Simon stood in the shadows, mere yards from the wall surrounding his target.
He could see the glinting of concertina wire, illuminated by the sweeping spotlights the Baron had surrounding his Keep. In the side-glare, flashes could be seen along the top portion, looking like sparks.
Glass and metal, embedded in the mortar, designed to shred anything even before it hit the wire on top.
Simon sighed, frustration making his blood pound in his head.
There was always another way.
Down the street, and around the corner, rusted gratings and stinking holes covered with wooden planks exploded upward, as the tidal wave from the hellzone below continued.
A hideous face, covered with seeping sores and luminous pus tilted back, breathing in the cool, damp air.
And the first of a chorus of howls echoed, growing as more and more emerged from the dark holes, a black science spawned harvest growing from diseased fields.
Sniffing the air, they, as one, began heading for Lowtown, scenting the food they’d been promised, feeling the pulse of that hot, red wine.
Bobby-Ray hadn’t been chilled as Sam had hoped.
Instead, he’d gone to scavenge all the kerosene he could find. Considering the fact that the new conquerors of Lowtown were hoarding everything that they had, this was no easy task. Finally, he’d just knifed the first one stupid enough to let him in.
The surprise in his best friends eyes as he felt the steel chilling him brought a giggle to Bobby-Ray’s lips.
He was losing it, and didn’t care.
He just wanted to see Sam and his place, his sec-man and whores burn.
His hair wet, loose and long, Graydon walked up to a side gate, his newly acquired blaster and the shirt taken from the backstabbed man marking him, from a distance as one of the Baron’s men. The two guards tensed as he approached, then relaxed as the silver ‘R’ emblazoned on his shirt glinted, and the Russian blaster shone oily in the glare of the arcs.
Looking out through the hair over one side of his face, his head down, Simon simply looked like a weary guard returning to safety.
“Macgregor,” one of them hissed. “Did you find Robby?”
Simon had indeed, with a needle thin hole in his spine, and a stomped-in face, likely the victim of the joltfreak he’d fought. He nodded.
The other, a thin man, a direct contrast to the first man, who was short and stocky, said: “Is he chilled?”
Another nod. He was ten feet away.
“Fuck! He owed me some jack for the poker ga…hey, you’re not…”
Simon drew the double-edged man chiller from the back sheath with his right hand, tossing the assault blaster to the shorter man with his left.
It was a gamble, tossing away his blaster, but seeing how the men (and women) of Deathlands valued prime blasters, it paid off as the man instinctively caught the thrown weapon in the crook of his arms, his own blaster turned away.
The knife flashed, and the tall man slammed into the wall, hands clutching feebly at the hilt sticking out from his ribs.
Hesitating in shock for only an instant, his companion began to bring his weapon in-line with the triple-stupe crazie attacking the Baron’s men right outside the Keep itself.
A leather-soled boot slammed into his groin, doubling him over, his muscles going loose as the pain began it’s trip.
Simon pulled the knife from his first victim, slashing the slowly sinking man across the throat, then he drove the steel into the other man’s back, twisting and stirring the man’s internals into oblivion.
He died with only a pained gasp.
Simon, acting fast, wiped his blade, then sheathed it. Next, grabbing the wrists of the two men, he dragged them into the nearest pool of shadow along the wall, quickly relieving them of much needed ammo and blasters, and grabbed up his other weapons, left bundled in the dark.
One had been armed with a battered Colt .45 long slide, specks of rust soaking up the bright lights like a cancer, while the other had an AK-47 like the one he himself carried.
The taller man also had a large, old-style key.
He slid the long-slide into the back of his belt, where the magnet and knife were, and carried the second long barrel back to the side gate, where he used the key he’d found on the doorlock, the big tumblers moving smoothly.
The door opened quietly, and Graydon slipped inside.
Slash, named so for the thin set of scars that criss-crossed his face was the first to see the horde.
He turned his head, yelled over his shoulder, “Looks like we’ve got some triple stupes tryin’ for the last train west!”
His companions, rising up from their turn at a woman now dead (though that didn’t mean a lot to them), readied themselves for conflict, grinning at each other as sweat began to wash away the Jolt-lines beneath their noses. They were Jolt-juiced, chill-crazed and nihilistic, wanting only to die while high, washing their hands in the blood of their victims as they did so.
Laughing, they stomped towards the dark figures, stopping and staring as the first of their opponents was revealed in the flash of a chem-cloud floating and burning benignly above.
“Fuck me,” muttered Slash. “Muties.”
Then he shouted.
Then the dying began.
Mary eased over the ledge, trusting to the century –old material to hold her weight. It creaked as her weight settled fully on it, but held, as did the knot that was tied around the steel tray, which was behind the partly open sliding doors, the tray held in place by Marys weight, the rope protruding from the space between.
Mary had jammed plastic forks and knives, liberated at the same time as the tray, into the runners of the doors, preventing them from opening any further.
Now, she lowered herself down, hand over hand, surprised at ease of her descent, feeling good for the first time in days to be doing something. Feeling better at the thought of getting out, and breathing real air, and feeling the intermittent sunlight on her face.
She eased down to the next floor, looking down and seeing that the rope ended nearly ten paces from the ground, leaving only this floor and the next as options.
She hooked one leg over the railing of the balcony, and pulled herself in, feeling the muscles in her leg straining. She then dropped onto the floor, still holding the rope.
Mary pulled it up, just in case she needed to get to the next floor in a hurry, letting it coil at her feet, then tried the doors, feeling both relief and tension as they opened, inviting her in.
She pulled the shard of mirror from her boot, and holding it at the ready, advanced into the dimness beyond.
Simon took an unimpeded look at the Baron’s Keep for the first time.
Lit by arclights, it showed absolutely no embellishments. It was simply a black block of granite that stood fifty feet high and a hundred feet long, rain-slicked in the night. Lights flickered from the occasional window, mostly the gold-yellow of candles, the Baron not wasting valuable power for the comfort of those servants within.
Graydon looked around. He was standing in the little guardhouse built against the wall, likely built as protection from the elements when someone was waiting to use the side gate.
He slipped the second assault blaster onto the cross-pieces above, leaving enough of it sticking out to give fast access if needed.
He was still in the shadows, watching as the lights swept along the yard, seeing that the patterns of the lights wouldn’t give him enough time to get across, even at a full run, to the door he could see against the wall of the Keep, lined by orange red light.
He took a deep breath.
Johnny Stentson, perched in a crow’s nest affair atop the Keep, nudged his companion as he saw a figure emerge from the little gatehouse. He was answered with a grunt as Little Mike turned around from watching the southwest corner of the yard, and looked in the direction that his partner indicated.
“Looks like Macgregor,” Little Mike said. Little Mike was anything but little, topping the scales at four hundred pounds, and standing three inches over six feet. Unfortunately, the weight that his height allowed him to carry, while intimidating, was mostly flab. His watery blue eyes squinted.
“Yeah,” he confirmed. “Marky boy.”
Stentson’s eyes narrowed as the figure turned, gave an unmistakable gesture, then continued walking towards the Keep, where the entrance to the kitchen was.
“I think…yeah, he’s got something. Gotta bundle a somethin’ hangin’ from a strap. Looks like a bastard big muzzleloader and stuff.”
“Hah!” guffawed Little Mike. “Just like Marky boy to be cartin’ around a piece of shit blaster like that, when we get ass-chewers like these!” He hefted the M-16 he held to emphasize his point.
“Them ‘piece of shit blasters’ fetch good price at the stalls when travelers and trappers come a- callin’.”
Little Mike’s eyebrows shot up. “Yeah?” he replied, the fat laden brain cells beginning to fire up. “Didn’t think of that. Maybe I’ll take a break, and go see how much jack Marky boy might want fer it.”
Mike let out a fart that nearly shook the lookout they were in. Stentson leaned back, letting the wind that blew through the open sides carry the stink away from him.
“Yeah,” He choked. “Why don’t you do that.”
Mike headed for the little stairway leading down.
Simon stepped out of the gatehouse’s shadow, and boldly walked along the worn path leading to the large door in front of him. He turned, as if giving the finger to the two outside the wall, and continued on.
The secret of any successful infiltration was to blend in, and he’d been taught how by masters of the craft, though he seemed to have slipped lately. But now, it was all under his terms, with him making the rules, him being in control.
He made it to the door without an alarm being sounded, and lifting the latch handle, a hook of cast iron, pulled open the door, and entered.
Delina Robertez grunted as Baco the Cook thrust into her again.
Her ass was plunked down on several burlap sacks full of flour, the rough material scratching her. Baco, intent on his own pleasure didn’t see the way her eyes rolled in frustration and disgust as the sweating man continued his rutting.
Baco was a pale, greasy man, sweat and body oils glinting on his skin. His paleness was subsumed, however, by his skeletal appearance, strange for a man who worked with food, day in and day out.
Robertez, a full-figured woman with brown hair and dark eyes had seen him once eat for two hours straight, meats, breads and whatever else he could find. But he hadn’t gained a pound.
Not then, and not since.
So she endured the writhing figure atop her, endured the sharpness of his pelvis as it jabbed the inside of her thighs. She knew that, with a word, he could have her thrown out on the streets, where she’d be at the not-so-tender mercies of the life outside the walls.
Baco, for his part, had no illusions about Delina. He’d told her, the first day she started working for him, that he’d have various demands for her to fulfill, and had immediately demonstrated them, commanding her to drop to her knees as he unbuttoned his pants. He knew he was an…unattractive man, and even the gaudies in town would be hard pressed to take him in, even for a handful of jack.
Stinkin’ meat-lickin’ sluts!
His following thrusts, fueled by self-pity and anger drew faint protests from the woman beneath him, quickly stifled.
Then, the door to the outside opened, and rain-scented air wafted over the two on the burlap sacks.
“Close the shittin’ door!” Baco yelped. The slight breeze was an almost painful rasp across his sweat-slicked skin. His lack of body fat had always made him vulnerable to the cold, and the sudden chill sank itself deep, making him shiver violently.
And worse, shrink despite Delina’s warm clasp.
“Fuck!” he roared. He pulled himself free, grabbing a cleaver from the wall as he rose. As Cook to the Baron and Hardiman, he’s always had a great deal of leniency in dealing with intruders in his kitchens, so he felt justified in at least threatening the triple-stupe with the butcher’s blade.
“You triple-stupe, nuke-suckin’ son-of-a-guady-slu…who in the bastard name of God’s silver sword are you?”
Delina blinked. She’d shut her eyes as the door had opened, to protect them against flour dust that had begun to swirl. She also gave a small sigh of relief as Baco’s hips stopped gouging her.
She heard the emaciated man yell at the intruder, and the tell-tale scraping of a cleaver lifting from a hook.
Then she heard a thud, with the sound of crackling eggshells just beneath.
Her eyes flew open in time to see the cleaver fly up into the air, and Baco fly back, his jaw crushed and pushed far out of alignment.
The cleaver thudded into the sacks of flour beside her, and she immediately knew something was wrong as pain washed up over her arm.
Fearfully, she looked, and saw blood streaming from her hand, where the blade had come down and cut the tip of her middle finger off.
Her heart seemed to skip a beat, then she began filling her lungs to scream.
Delina felt no pain, only pressure as the stock of a long barrel muzzleloader smashed into her forehead, silencing her before she could make a sound.
Mary crept into the hallway, hearing only the sounds of humming machinery and the soft whir of the air recyclers. She eased forward, her booted feet making almost no sound, the long shard held at the ready. She tried the first door she came to, found it unlocked.
Sliding into the room, she found banks of comps, all lit and working, hard-drives buzzing as they read information into processors for some unknown purpose.
There was nothing here she could use to escape from this place.
Listening at the door, she moved out, and silently moved to the next door.
She slowly opened it, and merged with the darkness within.
Simon looked at the two bodies at his feet.
The thin man moaned on the floor, his jaw crushed and dislocated. His entire body shivered violently as it lay there on the cold stone, and Graydon could see his skin turning blue before his eyes, like he was freezing to death in the room while a fire blazed in the fireplace, keeping the temperature near eighty degrees.
Looking at the woman, he felt a pang of regret, quickly quashed. Her eyes stared at him accusingly, as if, even in death, her eyes would retain the image of her killer.
He sighed. He would’ve let her live, tied and gagged, but when she started to take a breath to scream, he’d had to silence her fast.
He picked the man up, and moving, lay him down in the corner, where he was soon joined by the dead woman, Simon stumbling slightly under her considerable weight.
Simon then lay flour sacks over them, concealing them from view.
Going back to the door, he picked up his weapons, and adopting a sec-man’s exaggerated swagger, strode into the dimly lit hall on the other side of the kitchen.
In Lowtown, Hell swept the streets.
The houses, with their new tenants were locked up, but windows above were open or unlatched, easily reached by clawed hands, or suckered fingers or too-long arms.
Silent figures, using animal stealth programmed into them by their Master, slipped into the locked houses or the hotels or the clapboard shacks, finding food and hot red drink within, all obtained easily with tooth and claw.
Screams were muffled by the walls, and deathly silence followed.
End of Part 7