Simon awoke with a start.
He waited for the onset of what he’d been told was jump-sickness, the side effect of the Mat-trans travel that he’d experienced once already, on his first jump.
But as the moments passed, he realized that he didn’t feel ill, no headaches or nausea…nothing.
Instead of pondering why, he stood up, and headed through the opened door, clicking the safety off on the AK. He knew that this was it, one way or the other, winner take all.
He closed his eyes for a second remembering the jumpdream.
give you my life.
give you mine.
A love that would only end with death.
Now, to begin the end of this.
He punched in the code, and watched the door open on a room full of comps.
He took a deep breath, smelling the recycled air.
I’m coming for you Mary, he thought.
He had two rounds left.
John Stentson backed up, lining up another of the muties in his sights, and squeezed the trigger. The mutie’s head slapped back, an extra eye blooming in it’s forehead.
He’d fought stickies before, as well as other muties, and found that almost universally a head shot would bring down even the most tenacious nukespawned creature.
He was almost at the gatehouse, but he knew, as he entered the shade of the little shack, there was no chance of survival if he didn’t get more ammo.
Seeing the last of the original group coming for him, John made a choice.
He thrust his blaster under his chin, raised his eyes to the sky, and breathed deeply.
Then he blinked.
Froze for an instant.
Then he brought down the blaster and shot the oncoming mutie at point blank range through the left eye.
With a moment’s respite, he tucked the empty blaster into his pants, and reached up, pulling down the auto-blaster hidden in the crossbeams.
Mary avoided the rooms this time.
This time, she just ran down the hall, coming to the door that had been locked on her floor, and blocked by masked sec-men on the other.
The one marked: Stairs.
She pushed the door open, and ran down the stairs, ignoring the cobwebs that caught in her hair.
One flight, turn.
Two flights, turn.
She flew past, going down the remaining stairs, stopping to catch her breath before she pushed through this door.
She couldn’t wait.
Days of captivity urged her on, and she pushed through the door, still a little winded, desperate to escape.
She hung on to her ragged self-control by her fingernails.
A sec-steel door pivoted, mechanisms groaning in torment, the hatchet finally squeezed out by the pressure of the nuke-proofed barrier.
A mutie stuck it’s head through, scenting food, but saw nothing except for the lights that blinked and flashed on the predark boxes.
Ryker pushed himself in, throwing his children aside in his haste.
His prey was gone.
And he knew where.
He strode over to the multi-walled chamber, climbed within, and began to close the heavy armaglass-and sec-steel door.
He said: “Return to the town, my children. There is still much left to do there before we begin the Great Plan.”
Unable to even conceive of disobeying, the victims of his experiments turned and hastened off, eager to obey their God.
Ryker shut the door
Simon let the blaster lead the way, his finger light on the trigger, round under the pin. He’d found himself in some sort of complex, hallways stretching out around corners that were nearly out of sight. He’d walked to the end, taking his time, but after an hour of walking, found himself standing before a wall of polished granite, the specks of quartz within looking like stars.
Hissing his frustration, he ran back to where he’d started, and took a turn in another direction.
This time, after passing by an open door of armaglass, he ended before an opened sec-door, a massive affair with great bands of steel and rivets across, giving the impression of a great castle door.
Beyond the door, lay a huge area, a pit sunk into the earth. Looking across, he saw a building that appeared incomplete, the top floor unfinished, the rest of the structure lined with mirrored windows, and balconies, from one of which dangled something.
Looking down he saw, directly below, what appeared to be a man, mangled by must have been a fall onto the sharp-edged rocks that littered the rough floor.
He felt a surge of hope.
“Mary,” he whispered.
Then, spying a ladder leading down, hidden by a protruding shelf of rock, Simon slung the assault blaster, and began to descend.
He looked over, from where the ladder began, and saw someone had painted words on the wall only a few feet away in red paint.
to the Pit.
Simon turned away, and began climbing down.
Tanna, Sam and Morgan huffed as the trees grew thick around them, sunlight beaming down.
They’d stopped, unable to run any farther.
Tanna’s legs and chest seemed to be on fire, and she slumped to the ground, the only thing holding her upright was the tree she was leaning against.
Sam and Morgan weren’t much better, gulping air like drowning men. Morgan wiped sweat from his face, blinking rapidly as the salt stung his eyes. Sam had removed his glasses, and blinked blindly as he wiped moisture from them with a piece of cloth drawn from a back pocket.
When she got her voice back, Tanna looked accusingly at Sam.
“You butchered her,” she said, hoarse from thirst. Sam dug into the sack he’d carried, and pulled out a corked bottle. He handed it to her, then turned, walking off a little ways.
Morgan spoke up as she pulled the stopper. “He did what he had to do,” he said, watching as Tanna gulped, then made a face. A red trickle ran down from the side of her mouth.
“She was slowing us down,” he continued. “They could smell the blood she was losing. They would’ve caught her and us if something wasn’t done. So Sam saved us, and kept her from being eaten alive. She died a lot quicker than we would’ve, I bet.”
Tanna sipped the wine from the bottle, then stoppered it, and handed it to Morgan, who pulled the cork out again, and took a big swig, grimacing as the wine ate it’s way down his parched throat.
Sam had sat down, his back to them, letting the wind dry his face while it stirred his hair, which had wilted a little from the exertions of the last few hours, but had sprung back even from the muck and oil that had matted it. More so than his near-blind eyes, his hair had been a curse to him most of his life.
He didn’t know how long they had been running, but he knew that if the muties were going to catch them, it would’ve been before now.
He felt a hand settle lightly on his shoulder.
Cursing, he started and spun, his joints flaring in pain, a Bowie half out as he gained his feet.
Tanna stood there, having risen and walked over, her hands held out from her sides, a half-frightened look on her face.
Sam felt his own face pulled back in a snarl, and he struggled to relax. He rammed the Bowie back into the sheath and turned from her, feeling the rush of fear and anger ebb. Abruptly, he realized how tired he was, and knew, at that moment, he was truly an old man.
“Sam?” asked Tanna. He gave a tired grunt in reply. She settled down beside him, touched his face, turning it towards her. “I understand why you did it. I don’t like it, but I understand it.”
He smiled a little.
“I’ve never really had to deal with a situation like this before,” she said, leaning against him. “When I traveled with my father, we’d just stop in a ville, make some jack, and get out. Sometimes we’d just pass by a ville altogether, if it looked too much like a pesthole. We never ran into trouble like this though. We… were always so careful. We…” Her voice trailed off, and Sam glanced at her.
She had fallen asleep, leaning against him.
He smiled, and let himself feel the wind again.
Morgan, standing behind them, turned and began collecting some wood for a fire, something to keep the animal muties away while they rested.
He tried to ignore the feelings that rose as he saw Tanna cuddled up to Sam, obviously asleep, exhausted by the events of the past few days.
Morgan picked through the twigs and limbs scattered about, and tried not to feel jealous of a nearly blind old man.
And failed miserably.
The first thing that struck Simon was the stench.
It was the sickly smell of rotting flesh and the stink of waste left to decompose. It was the smell of unwashed bodies and the odor of corruption that crawled up your nose like a living thing, poisoning every breath you took, and coating your skin with a viscous film that no amount of bathing would cleanse.
Breathing between gritted teeth, Simon searched around the building, ignoring the dead man on the ground, looking for an entrance.
He found it when another man, dressed in a green coverall and wearing a leather, full-cover mask stepped out of the wall in front of him, pushing a door that looked exactly like the mirrored windows that surrounded it.
He stopped as he saw Graydon standing there, the auto-blaster the longhaired man held pointing directly at him.
He raised his hands.
Mary, pulling the door open, stepped out, into what she hoped was the last of these hallways she would see for a long time. She began walking slowly down the hall, knowing that if anything were to happen, it would happen here, just before she got out.
A door, heavily armored, hissed open beside her.
Mary’s heart jumped into her throat, not knowing what to make of this. The room beyond was full of racks and shelves, but in the lit hallway, she couldn’t make out what was stored on them. Though curiosity pulled at her, she resisted, and began down the hall again.
Then another door opened, and another masked man stepped out, looking down the hall in the direction she was about to go.
Mary ducked into the open doorway, and it slid shut just behind her.
She gasped as she saw what was in this room.
“Where’s the girl?” Simon asked quietly.
The man gave no reply.
He stepped up to the man, rammed the muzzle into his gut, dropping him to his knees.
Looking down, Simon said; “I won’t ask again.”
Gasping, the man pointed into the structure, holding his stomach with his other hand.
“Baron’s new slut is in there, the top floor. She’s got the whole floor to herself. Had it to herself since she got here. Baron goes to her sometimes. Comes out happy. She must be…” he stopped as Simon hammered the butt of the AK-47 into his head, shattering the temple with an audible crunch.
Simon kept bringing the stock of the weapon down until it dripped red.
Breathing heavily, he opened the door, and walked into the cool, recycled air.
Like a demonic warrior striding down the halls of Hell, Ryker strode towards the Pit. His teeth were bared, and his taloned hands flexed in anticipation.
A growl burned deep in his chest.
Mary looked about in wonder.
Blasters of all shapes and sizes sat on those shelves and racks. Long blasters, hand blasters, what she assumed were blasters that seemed to be made of plastic, shaped into tubes.
Blocks, silver-wrapped sat in a locker, the bent hinges showing where the door had been ripped off. She thought that they were food blocks, but when she got close, she saw that they were labeled: ‘High Explosives- C-4. Military use only.’
She wandered through the armory, seeing blades now, all types from long, skinny two-handed swords to short gutting knives.
Mary spotted a blaster that looked much like the one she’d lost on the floor above. She plucked it from it’s resting place, feeling the thin film of oil protecting the predark weapon.
Now for ammunition, she thought.
Simon crept along, hearing nothing but the sound of his own blood pumping. He knew that Mary was here, more sure than anything he’d ever known before. It was like a sickness, one that drove him on and on.
He heard a noise, saw a door opening near the end of the hall.
From it staggered another man in a black mask, blood leaking from the metal ringed holes over the mouth, running down his chest, soaking it.
Simon could hear the wheezing from where he stood, and thought that he could hear a faint sucking sound as well.
He eased toward the man, his blaster ready, nearly going off when the wounded man slid down the wall to his knees, leaving a trail of red.
The mask looked up, noticing the assassin.
He held out his hand, using the other to push himself up.
The AK-47 cooked off a single round, shockingly loud in the narrow hallway.
The man kicked back in a cloud of red, the bullet shattering a rib, and by chance puncturing the man’s other lung, leaving him to kick and thrash as his breathing choked off, his lungs filling with blood.
It would be a long, slow ending, but Simon just couldn’t find it in himself to let him suffer.
For very long, anyway.
He stopped near the door the man had come out, and fired another round, this one hitting the heart, and coring into the concrete floor. The thrashing stopped.
He took another step forward, seeing that the door ahead was marked Stairs, when a heavy sec-steel door hissed open beside him, revealing a dimly lit room.
Simon saw a figure stirring within, and brought the blaster up, his finger tightening on the trigger.
Mary had found the ammo, boxes of loaded clips ready for use. She slipped one into the Astra, and pulled back the slide.
The gun moved smoothly, parts well oiled, and the slide snapped back into place, a .45 caliber bullet ready for firing.
Then Mary jumped, as there was a resounding explosion of sound outside in the hall, a bastard big blaster sounding off. For an instant, she had thought the blaster she held had accidentally fired, but the round was quickly followed by another.
Then the door opened, and the hallway light nearly blinded her as she brought her blaster in line with the silhouette standing there, even as the long blaster in his hands came up.
Everything happened in an instant.
A patch of light darkened as it struck his left hand, which cupped the front of the blaster, showing her what looked to be a mark like the craters of the moon…
“Simon?” she asked, lowering her gun a bit. She waited for either an answer or a bullet.
The figure took a halting step inside, the door hissing shut behind.
“Mary? Is that…you?”
“SIMON!” She dropped the blaster, letting it clatter on the floor. She ran to him, seeing him drop the blaster he held, and felt his arms encircling her, lifting her off the ground.
Near the ladder, Ryker clutched at his chest, feeling pain as if something was being ripped from it. He felt the tenuous hold he had on Mary shred, then fade away to nothing.
His head went back, his knees buckled, and he howled in a soul-deep pain.
Mary was kissing Simon, quick pecking kisses all over his face, lingering over his lips, feeling him returning the kiss she gave. She felt him shuddering as he held her.
Holding her, Simon felt the light returning to his soul. He had no words to describe the feelings that flooded him, making his heart throb with pure joy.
Mary held him as tightly as he held her, and felt him shudder.
“What’s wrong?” she muttered. Mary hated to speak, fearing that would break the spell, but Graydon only held her tighter.
“Nothing,” he replied, ignoring the pain that flared up. “Nothing.”
He kissed her again.
“We’ve gotta get out of here,” he whispered. He felt her nodding.
Then he opened his eyes, and for the first time, noticed where they were.
John Stentson hit the gates running, not once looking back as the rest of Rykerville died in a black pall of smoke. The clip of the blaster was half gone, each bullet having claimed a mutie’s life as he ran through the streets, dodging fly-covered heaps that had only hours ago been human.
Every now and then, a mutie had gotten brave, coming out, blinking heavily in the sunlight.
Half-blind and gorged full of meat, they’d been easy targets, and he suspected that the corpses he’d left had been pulled back into the shade, where others had enjoyed an easy repast.
He’d felt a quick flash of triumph as he’d seen the fire rising over the buildings of the ville, knowing that though the muties had taken it, they sure as hell wouldn’t keep it.
He ran past the ripped corpse of what had once been a woman, and slowed just enough to snag a pillowcase full of something off the ground.
He’d see what it was later.
And when he hit the treeline, he knew without a doubt that he was safe.
Simon wished he’d had more time here.
Both he and Mary had grabbed heavy-duty backpacks from a rack in the corner, thrown them into the middle of the floor and body armor on top of them. Clothing was found, black mil-spec pants and shirts, very much like what Simon had had before. Steel-toed combat boots hit the floor as Simon hunted for a pair that would fit Mary, those going into the pile as they were found.
As Mary struggled to dress, Simon changed his clothing as well, feeling the toughness of the ripstop material as it slid over bruises and scrapes, some of which were only making themselves felt now. He laced up the boots tightly, feeling the weight of the steel plates within.
He grabbed clips and two boxes of .45 ammo for Mary’s blaster, which she had stated she wanted to keep. He loaded them into her pack, along with a first aid kit.
He grabbed a handful of rad-badges, pinning one to his collar, checking it to make sure the batteries were still good, and gave one to Mary, telling her to pin it on. After she did this, she began looking at the blades, picking two, a narrow bladed flensing knife, and a bigger camp knife with a nine-inch blade.
Simon found two nylon web-belts, olive-drab with holsters of the same, one of which he gave to Mary, who buckled it on, leaving the sweat stained holster and belt she’d gotten before on the floor, kicked off to the side.
Simon’s eyes lit up as he saw a rack of handguns, each with a tube four inches long sitting along side.
He picked one up, locked back the slide and checked the barrel.
“What kind of blaster is that?” Mary asked. Simon turned to her, and watched as she threaded the belt through the sheath of her camp knife.
“It’s a Heckler and Koch Model 23. One thousand, two hundred of them were made in 1998 for the United States Special Forces after beating out Colt in military testing. It’s a forty-five caliber, polymer framed blaster with a threaded barrel,” he said, holding it and the tube up, “for the included silencer.”
He slapped in a loaded clip, and flicked the release, the slide slamming home. He slid it into the holster, and hooked the pouch for the long silencer just in front of it, so he could cross-draw it with his left hand for ease of use.
Now, for his blade.
Simon had taken off the ten-inch blade and sheath when he’d changed, placing it in the pack he would be carrying. So he picked up a thin, razor-edged blade similar to the one Mary had taken, and using the clip on the sheath, hooked it on the belt at the small of his back.
Then, his eyes picked up a familiar shape.
He dashed over, hefting his black titanium-alloy blade.
“Should I leave you two alone?” Mary said. Simon saw her smiling at him as he re-acquainted himself with the weapon that had crossed a century with him. He didn’t know why the weapon was here, and not being abused by some Rykerville Sec-man, and he truly didn’t care.
He felt balanced as the sheathed blade was settled on the belt. Then he looked at Mary, and the intensity of his stare made her shiver.
“I’ll never leave you alone again,” he told her.
Now armed, they began filling the backpacks with necessities.
More ammo went into the packs first thing, followed by ration bars. Ringpulls followed, weighing them down considerably, so half were removed.
Thinsulate™ lined sleeping bags followed, tied to the bottoms of the aluminum frames, and canteens hung empty from eyelets on the sides. More clothing was stuffed in, then one block of the plas-ex in each.
Simon grabbed a small box marked ‘detonators’, and slipped it into a pocket.
“Here,” said Mary, handing him a coat. He slipped it into the pack, and hefted it, realizing that if they took anymore, it would seriously hamper their movement.
“We can’t take anymore,” he said. Mary could hear the regret in his voice.
“We have more than most people see in a lifetime,” Mary told him. She slung her pack.
“We’d better go.”
Ryker finally stood, his green eyes blazing.
He stood by the ladder, looking down over his underground domain, and whispered: “Go then, little Mary. I have seen you leave, and I have seen you return to me. You will walk through fire, and be tempered by ice. When you come back to me, my arms will be open to you, and our destiny together will truly begin.”
He turned, and went back the way he came.
Mary was talking as they left the building; “…so you’re saying that wasn’t a dream I had when Hardiman drugged me? There actually is a little room that you go to sleep in, and then wake up somewhere else?”
“I don’t know exactly how it works, but yeah, that’s pretty close.”
He looked at her. “Mary..” he began, not knowing how to ask.
She returned his gaze. “What is it, Simon? You’ve been wanting to ask me something for a while now.”
“I faced Hardiman. He said some things. I want to know…if any of it was true.”
“What did he say?”
“That there was a child.”
She stopped, and Simon saw her eyes fill with tears.
She didn’t say anything. She just nodded.
“I hope that cat-eyed son-of-a-bitch died slow.” Graydon said.
“Me too,” Mary said, little tremors rocking her.
Simon reached for her, drew her close. She sank into his embrace.
“C’mon,” he said. Let’s get out of…Shit!” He hit himself in the forehead. “We can’t go back to the Mat-trans. There’s a whole mutie army waiting there.”
Mary looked at her man.
“There’s another way.”
Tanna still dozed, but now she was near the fire, put there by Sam.
The flames reflected from the man’s glasses, turning his eyes into circles of fire.
Morgan stood back, shaded by the trees for the most part, watching the old man, as he sighed and stretched. Sam picked up the now half-full bottle, and turned slightly.
“Why don’t you step out into the light, Garret?” Sam asked. Morgan was a little startled.
Sam never called him by his first name.
Morgan came over, squatted down near the old man, accepting the bottle that he held out.
“I didn’t wanna say anythin’ while she was awake,” Sam said, stirring the fire with a stick. He sighed again, rubbing the bicep of his left arm. “Damn me. I sure must be gettin’ old when a little runnin’ and chillin’ wears me out like this. I ache all over.”
Morgan handed Sam the bottle. Tilting back, he took a long swallow.
“’Preciate it,” Sam said. “Now, we both know that we’ve been lucky, so far. The muties wanted to stay out of the sun, which kept ‘em from chasin’ us too far. But night’s not too far off. So we gotta decide if we’re gonna stay here, or if we’re gonna hightail it, and put some more space ‘tween us and those rad-twisted son’s-a-bitches.”
“I got one shell left for my blaster,” Morgan said. “And I’m savin’ it for myself. How many you got?”
Sam checked the big blaster he carried.
“I’ve got eleven. Six in the chambers, five in the belt.”
“If they come in the night, we’re screwed. Chilled and screwed.” Morgan stood, feeling his own stiffened muscles creak. “And hearin’ what I have about some muties...”
“Alright then, it’s decided. We’ll rest fer a bit, then get the fuck outta here.”
There was the sound of a bolt being drawn back.
“Mind some company?”
Mary lead Simon to where she’d seen the muties dragging out earth and rock, halting at the tunnel entrance that went off into the darkness. “This is where I saw the Baron’s muties bringing out dirt and rocks by the barrel full. If Baron Ryker didn’t send them out through that Mat-trans thing, then he likely sent’em out here.”
Simon pulled out his new blaster, and threaded on the silencer.
“Wish they’d had flashlights in there,” he said to her. “I hate going in there with no light.”
“Why are you putting that thing on?” Mary asked, watching as he cinched up the device.
“We’re going to be doing as much listening as looking,” he told her, clicking the safety off. “I don’t want to screw up our hearing. Also, echoes’ll carry a long way in there.”
“I don’t think that anything’ll be in there,” she told him. “They all wanted out.”
“I saw some of them,” Simon asked as they started into the tunnel. “Where’d he get so many muties?”
“He made them.”
Simon halted. “What?”
“He made them. He told me that that was what happened to the people from the ville who went off,” she told him. She pulled her pack a little higher, and unlimbered her own blaster. “He’d take the strongest ones, and do something to them, he called it genetic manaplation.”
She looked sharply at him. How had he known the word? “Yeah, manipulation. He got people from all over. Pestholes. Swampvilles. Backwater squatshack towns. Anywhere he could find ‘em, he took ‘em, and brought them here.”
Simon slid his hand along the wall, noted: “This tunnel’s been cleaned out with machinery.”
Mary then saw something else.
“There’s another room ahead.”
“I can just see the light. Strong. But it’s not the sun.”
“Another chamber of horrors.”
They proceeded carefully, emerging from the darkness.
Simon squinted, willing the spots that danced before his eyes away.
Mary shielded her eyes, blinking them into focus.
They both gasped at the same time.
They were in a chamber hundreds of feet long, and over a hundred high. Nuke-powered lights obliterated any trace of shadow, giving everything a vaguely ethereal white glow.
Mary felt a cold hand clasp her heart.
She knew this place.
“Oh, God,” she whispered. She started to shake, grabbing onto Simon for support. Her head swam, and a pulse began to pound painfully behind her eyes.
She knew this place.
She opened her eyes, saw the stuff of a nightmare.
heard a soft scuffing noise. Darting towards it, she saw a frail-looking boy,
whose arms trembled with weakness, climbing into one of the tubes…
“Mary? Are you all right?”
She blinked the vision away, found that she was staring into Simon’s dark eyes.
She pulled away from Simon, and hugging herself, dashed off among the armaglass tubes that were against the wall, hundreds of them, going right to the ceiling. She ran past humming computers with multi-colored lights flashing, and stopped, Simon catching up to her a moment later.
“Mary! What is it. Why’re you running around in he…” His voice trailed off his eyes took in what Mary was staring at.
One of the tubes, no different from any of the others sat there, the top half that should have lifted up on hydraulic arms lay on the floor, ripped from the other half, inside which lay a pile of old rags. Mary knew that if she looked at them, she’d have found they where the same as what she saw the boy wearing in her dream.
Simon crouched down, tapping the glass with his blaster, the material making a soft gonging noise. He reached in, traced his fingers along gouges in the armaglass shield. His fingers couldn’t reach each one, but as he followed them, he could see in his mind’s eye a huge clawed hand ripping down, talons ripping through the space-age product like someone might trace a design in the mud.
Mary said something.
Simon stood, backing away from the ruined case.
“What was that?”
She was obviously frightened. “I said, I think this is where he was born.”
She looked him, reached out and pulled him towards her.
“Him,” she whispered. She held Simon tightly.
“You’re John Stentson,” Sam said. His hand was close to the .44.
“Don’t even think it.” His hand moved away.
Stentson stood at the edge of the little clearing they had stopped in, half behind a bush, the muzzle of his blaster covering them. His clothing was drenched with sweat, and he was breathing hard.
But the blaster remained rock steady.
Most of Ryker’s Sec-men had gotten their jobs by sheer brutality, swearing oaths of loyalty to Hardiman and the Baron, and breaking the heads of anyone they were pointed at.
Except John Stentson.
He’d come to the ville with a Sharps .50 long blaster, two shells and the need for a job. He’d used those two shells to great effect, using one to shoot a silver thimble off of a twig that was swaying in the breeze from nearly a half mile away, and the last to lay the other sharpshooter applying for the job on his back, his left eye replaced by a hole, and the back of his head gone completely.
He’d gotten quite a list of kills in the ville, most of them from defending the Baron against snipers and assassins from other villes.
Stentson was feared for his abilities, not for being a thrill-chiller sec-man.
Sam broke the standoff.
“My arms are getting’ tired. If’n yer gonna shoot me, then hurry up before the cramps start. I’m too old to walk ‘em off.”
John’s mouth twitched. “Just wanted to make sure you weren’t gonna waylay me, Sam. I’m tired, thirsty and hungry. I’m also out of a job and had to leave everything I owned behind.”
“Well, c’mon then. We don’t have much to eat. But I’m sure you can bag us somethin’”
“Puttin’ me to work already, you old bastard?”
“You wanna stay, you gotta earn your keep.”
Stentson smiled. “Fair enough.”
And lowered the blaster.
Tanna relaxed, and closed her eyes, still laying by the fire. She eased the hammers down on the scattergun she held under the blanket Sam had covered her with..
Thirty minutes later, a single shot from Stentson’s blaster brought down a mid-sized buck, the sound muffled by the trees.
Mary told him about the dream she’d had, leaving out the parts about their child, and her own foretold experiences. Telling him about the boy climbing in the tube, and Ryker’s appearance behind her.
“Ryker’s a mutie?” Simon asked, holding Mary at arm’s length.
She nodded. “He looks like the devil, just like the picture in the old bible I used to have.”
Simon tried to wrap his head around the science that could do something like that, change a human being into that kind of…thing.
“He must be really strong,” she said, looking at the wreaked tube. “Probably what he wanted to be when he climbed in. He looked so weak.”
“Doesn’t matter now,” Simon replied. “We’ve gotta get out of here, before he gets through the door to the Mat-trans, or thinks of coming back through the tunnel. We can’t stay here any longer.”
She remembered the little boy…and what he’d become.
Unseen around the corner, fifty-five tubes sat, each one filled with swirling, mutagenic mists.
An hour later, they climbed up through the last of the mutie’s tunnels, and found themselves in what looked to be a dark tunnel.
Simon couldn’t make out anything, but there was a familiar smell.
“We’re in the sewers,” he said, talking over his shoulder. As his eyes adjusted, he could see that there was what looked to be a rockfall just behind them, and he knew that he was in the tunnel that lead to the Baron’s Keep. He could dimly make out a grayness in the direction opposite.
Mary stood up beside him, her blaster out. “Sunlight,” she said, pointing to the area of gray.
“Good. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
They emerged into a smoke-filled ghost town.
From their right, heat radiated from the flames that consumed what was left of the building that had housed ‘The Best Gaudies In Rykerville’, little fireballs erupting as barrels of rotgut ignited.
Through the smoke, Simon and Mary could see shambling figures heading into the Keep, through the ruined gate, trying to escape the heat and the hateful sunlight above.
They appeared to be carrying something, squirming misshapen bundles of screaming meat, something to hold them until the darkness came again.
Mary looked ill. Simon turned his head away, still hearing the sounds of men and women, arms and legs broken and gnawed being carried away to still more agony inside the blackness of the Keep.
Mary took a sudden shocked breath. She clutched Simon’s shoulder, pulling him into the nearest alley.
“What is it?” He asked her, following her trembling finger as she pointed to the roof of the Keep.
Simon looked. And he couldn’t believe it, despite what she’d told him.
He stood there, looking over his ville of mutants. He looked to be well over seven feet tall, his muscles a nightmare of development, visible even through the smoke, looking like bridge cables underneath a dark red skin. Spikes of bone or horn bristled from his forearms, sweeping back a foot or more, two on each arm.
A thick talon glinted on each finger and Simon knew, remembering an armaglass tube, exactly how much damage he could do with them.
Horns sparkled oily in the light, two of them gently sweeping back from the forehead.
Ryker then smiled, as if he knew he was being watched, and fangs glinted in the sunlight, which was beginning to make shadows slide to the east.
Simon looked up, and saw that the sun was beginning the rapid fall to darkness.
He turned to Mary, said; “We’ve got to go right…” then his words were interrupted by a hurtling form, which slammed him into the wall, causing him to drop his new blaster.
Simon got only a nightmare glimpse of the mutie, seeing a mouth that took up the whole face, filled with teeth, and eyes that twitched on stalks six inches above the head, like a crabs. He twisted, flinging the creature off, then kicked, the impact knocking it into the wall. Jamming his forearm under the thing’s throat, Simon shoved hard, cracking it’s head into the soot-stained brickwork, then lifted his foot and kicked down, hitting the knee.
Which bent the wrong way, not breaking.
Simon was pushed back against the opposite wall, his pack taking most of the impact, but still hampering much of his movement.
Pushing his hands against it’s chest, he kept the snapping jaws away from him, spittle spraying.
Then he saw a slender, black-clad arm snake around it’s throat, holding a thin-bladed knife, which was jerked back with enough force to nearly decapitate the monster.
Blood jetting, it released Graydon, and stumbled off, collapsing just as a billow of smoke obscured it.
Simon looked admiringly at Mary, who stood there calmly cleaning her blade before sliding it back into the sheath. “Just like slaughtering pigs.”
Simon laughed quietly, feeling for any damage the mutie might have caused. Finding none, he looked at Mary, felt his heart surge.
“I love you,” he said to her. She smiled, looked away, then looked back at him.
Picking up his gun. Simon looked at the sun again.
“We’ve got about three hours before it starts to get dark,” he said. “I think the nearest gate is that way. Can you run?”
“If it means getting away from here, I’d run to the moon.”
“Okay. Let’s GO!”
They all sat back, enjoying the feeling of being full for the first time in days. They’d all been eating very little for the past few days , even Stentson, who’d had access to the Sec-men’s supplies during the Lowtown War.
Sam had found a little stream, and had filled up a number of bottles, helped by Tanna, as Morgan aided Stentson’s efforts to dress the deer.
Now, Stentson looked up, and saw billions of stars blazing away, the sky completely devoid of chemclouds.
The ville still burned, the glow visible over the hilltops.
There was a few minutes of silence.
“Who’s gonna take first watch?”
“I’ll take it Sam,” said Tanna. She rose smoothly. “I’ve got to walk off some of this deermeat, or I’ll end up looking like Lorilei…” Her voice quieted as she remembered the heavyset gaudy. She had been one of the girls to panic, running out into the street, where she’d been met by the raving crowd.
“Sure, Tanna,” Sam replied, knowing what the girl was thinking. “Be careful.”
Sam and the others rolled to their feet as seven men came out of the trees, all armed with M-16’s and AK-47’s. All looked dangerous.
All wore the silver ‘R’ of the Baron’s Sec-men.
They stood at the treeline, at the very spot where Simon had gone off to warn Mary after leaving the Ville, looking down at the flaming remains. The sun was sinking faster and faster towards the horizon, as if it could no longer bear the sight.
Mary watched the hotel where she and her mother had worked collapse in a storm of sparks that rose into the sky, fading memories of a time, now long past.
She turned from the scene.
“O.K.” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”
Sam, Morgan and Stentson stood there, blasters jammed into their kidneys as the leader of the rag-tag group walked around Tanna, who winced every time a hand reached out, to pinch and fondle her.
“Prime piece o’ gaudymeat you got here, Sam.”
Roy Jones, former sec-man, sneered at the old man, who jumped when the muzzle of the blaster poking him in the back shoved further, bringing a groan to his lips, quickly stifled.
“I seen you,” he said to Tanna, “When you was singin’ at Sam’s gamblin’ gaudy. You got a pretty voice.” He looked her up and down. “Pretty lips, too. Bet they’ll feel good wrapped around my meat.”
His men snickered.
“But first, let’s see what else you got.”
His hands reached up, and grabbing her shirt, pulled the top apart, buttons popping. Tanna’s hands moved up, covering her exposed breasts.
Roy grabbed them, pulled them away. Tanna saw Sam lunging forward, only to be clubbed down by the man behind him. Morgan was already on his knees, pre-emptively struck by his guard.
John just stood there, hands behind his head, his eyes hard as stone as he looked straight ahead.
“Wait your turn, old man. From the looks o’ her, there’s plenty to go around.” He reached up, grabbed Tanna’s hair, pulling it back until she was forced to look into his eyes.
“You do me girl,” he snarled at her, his breath wafting over her, smelling like something had gone rancid. “You do me good, or I’ll skin the old man, and feed you the pieces.”
She glanced over at Sam, saw that he was being held up by his hair, with one of his own Bowies thrust under his throat.
She nodded submissively.
“Yeah,” said Roy. He released her hair, fondled her breasts for a moment, then pushed her to her knees, reaching to unbutton his pants.
She knelt there, her face hidden behind her black hair, which had come loose when she’d slept, and waited for the brutality to begin.
She felt his fingers entangle her hair, pulling her head up, her pain filled eyes blinking tearfully at him. His other hand aimed his cock at her mouth.
“Suck it, Bitch!” he ordered. “And if I feel teeth, I’ll knock’em out! Unnerstand?”
Tanna nodded, and leaned forward.
Roy closed his eyes, anticipating the first pleasurable contact.
His eyes were still closed when his face exploded.
Morgan was still seeing stars.
As soon as Roy’s hands had ripped Tanna’s shirt, he’d tensed to lunge forward, but the back of his head had exploded in pain, as a sec-man’s blaster butt had cracked into it. He was eating dirt before he knew it.
As soon as he’d spit it out, and his eyes had cleared a little, he thought he’d seen something.
Like the flash of green eyes in the dark, like a cat’s.
He saw Sam’s head ripped up by the hair, and a shining blade was placed under his chin.
He saw Roy pulling out his swollen member, aiming it at Tanna’s mouth, saw her reluctantly lean forward…
Mary led Simon through the forest, following a trail that he could barely see in the starlight. She’d said that she knew these woods, and a place where there was good water.
Simon let himself be lead along, watching with pride as she walked almost soundlessly through the dark forest, his mind flashing back to finding a helpless, frightened girl as she ran from a fate worse than death.
Only a little less than two months ago.
A snapping twig alerted them to the presence of another, a figure moving through the darkness silently, but with little grace.
“Sec-man,” Mary whispered, holding her head close to Simon’s. He stared hard, and barely made out the silver ‘R’ on his shirt.
“Yeah,” he breathed into her ear. He was curious to see what the sec-man was doing out here, since he was likely one of the deserters from the days before. The mutie horde hadn’t seemed to make a distinction between the citizens of Rykerville and their guards, so Simon suspected that Ryker had intended them all to be killed.
Why would Ryker destroy a ville full of relatively harmless people? From what he’d heard, the ville may have been bigger than most, but other than that, there was no difference between this ville, or another a hundred miles away.
A shout de-railed his train of thought, and he drew his blaster before the thought to do so had fully formed.
Mary pulled her’s also, though she fumbled with the unfamiliar holster and weapon for an instant.
The sec-man before them whooped, and stumbled forward, all silence gone, allowing Mary and Simon to quickly catch up.
They crouched behind some bushes at the edge of the firelight that lit the clearing.
“This is the place,” Mary told Simon. He grunted in reply.
They watched as the sec-men surrounding the people pushed a girl away from the three men with her, into the arms of a greasy, unkept looking man.
Simon took a sharp breath as he recognized Tanna, looking thoroughly frightened as her shirt was ripped open. Gritting his teeth as she was groped, Simon eased the silencer from the pouch and quickly threaded it on.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Mary lie flat on the ground, so she could aim from below the bushes. Looking up, he saw Tanna, on her knees, being drawn towards the man whose back was towards him.
He lined up on the man’s head.
He squeezed the trigger, felt the buck, but barely heard the cough from the suppressor.
Mary saw the man’s head evaporate. Then she squeezed off a round of her own, the shot shockingly loud, catching another man in the leg.
Morgan reared up as the blackheart behind him screamed in agony immediately after the blastershot. He backhanded the man with enough force to snap teeth, and then stomped on the man’s head as he fell, the sound faintly reminiscent of eggshells.
He noted the leg wound instantly, and picked up the man’s blaster, a battered but serviceable M-16, and fired, the burst catching the sec-man guarding John in the chest, one of them perforating the gleaming ‘R’.
John whirled, caught up the sec-man’s fallen weapon, flinching as bullets smacked into the ground near him, spraying him with dirt and rock chips. He sprayed three men with his new weapon, two dropping dead, the other spinning with a gaping red wound in his shoulder.
The man holding Sam had frozen as Roy’s face had exploded, giving Sam the chance he needed.
He couldn’t fight worth shit, he knew, but the triple-stupe holding him had loosened his grip, giving Sam the chance to grab at his weapon of choice.
He grabbed the hilt of the blade under hi throat, twisting as he pushed, the knife slipping from the man’s fingers as he scrabbled for it, then went for his gun.
Sam didn’t wait for him to get it, however. He flipped the knife, snatching it out of the air, blade down, and rammed it into the sec-man’s thigh, twisting it and pulling it out in the space of a heartbeat.
The sec-man screamed as the knife caused agony to spike through his leg, then struggled to bring up the russian blaster he’d just unslung, finding it heavier than he’d remembered it being.
Sam used the back of the blade to push the barrel out of line, then brought it up and across, slashing the man’s throat, finishing the job started by the first cut, which severed the jetting femoral artery in his leg.
Pulling his other blade from the dying man’s belt, Sam looked for his next target.
Only to find six of the silver-lettered sec-men dead, and one wounded on the ground, clutching his shoulder.
Morgan was hauling Roy’s faceless corpse off of Tanna, who was lying helplessly beneath. She had blood and brains speckling her face, and urine which had exploded from Roy at his death on her shoulder.
John was holding his blaster at the ready, scanning the forest around them. He knew that, though whoever was out there had helped them against the sec-men, it didn’t mean that they didn’t have something worse planned for the survivors.
They all looked into the darkness.
Sam spoke first.
“Whoever’s there, you might as well come out.”
“Sam!” Morgan protested, holding Tanna close to him, shielding her as best he could. “They could be muties!”
Sam spat into the fire, then looked at Morgan. “Most muties don’t use blasters. And the muties yer thinkin’ of don’t know enough to squat when they shit, much less pull a trigger.”
Looking back into the dark, Sam said; “C’mon out, stranger. We owe you somethin’ ta eat, at least.”
Simon looked at Mary, still prone on the ground, aiming loosely at the man holding the wooden-stocked blaster. “I’ll go,” he whispered. “You cover me. If anything happens, take out the guy with the wood on his blaster.”
“That’s who I’m aiming at!” Mary hissed peevishly. “And be careful. He’s wearing a sec-man’s shirt.” Just like a man, she thought. Thinks with his balls.
She felt herself flush as she thought that. Two months ago, she’d have been cuffed by her mother for saying, even thinking such a thing. But, that was before.
This was now.
Simon stepped out into the light, blaster in hand, but pointed to the side.
“Hello, Tanna. Guess you didn’t expect to see me again, hmm?”
“Simon? Is that you?” Tanna squirmed from Morgan’s grasp, and holding her shirt together, stepped up to him. She stared up at his face. “It is you. The Baron’s sec-men didn’t kill you after all.”
“Nope.” He looked over at John. “Who’re you?”
John kept the blaster pointed away from the stranger. He looked him over carefully before answering, taking in the big-ass blaster he held, and the bigger-ass blade he carried on his left hip. He looked to be near six feet, placing him near his own height, and had a big pack on his back, stuffed full and heavy, though the weight didn’t seem to bother him much.
“Name’s John Stentson, shootist from out west,” he answered. “Stopped in the ville for a look around, heard the Baron was looking for a man good with a longblaster. Showed what I could do, got a job coverin’ the Baron ‘gainst ‘ssassins and other trouble.”
“You did too good a job,” Simon growled. He pointed the .45 at the man on the ground, still holding tightly to his leaking shoulder. “Who’s that?”
But even as he said it, he recalled the man’s face from the ville, laughing at a fat man’s jokes and guzzling beer in the Baron’s sec-house. He’d talked about a certain gaudyhouse, one that specialized in the very young. The other sec-men had listened with interest, while Simon had to keep from either getting sick, or killing the man as he droned on.
“Oh yeah,” Simon said, his voice soft, yet carrying over the crackling of the fire. “Now I remember.”
The gun in his hand coughed, and the man doubled as the heavy bullet blew off his cock and balls.
Shock covered the pain at first, the man looking up breathlessly at Simon, who looked back with black pits for eyes. Then, the realization set in, and the pain roared up his body.
He sucked in a breath to scream, then Simon shot him in the throat, the bullet coring through to whap into the ground, taking along a spray of tissue and bone.
His eyes fluttered, then stopped, gazing at nothing.
John had brought the gun back around, and along with Morgan were pointing their blasters at the black-clad man before them, his own blaster smoking.
“What the nukedustin’ high-rad fuck!” Morgan spat.
“He was a child-molester,” Simon said, still looking at the corpse. “He got what he deserved.”
Glancing over at both Morgan and John, he watched them as they relaxed, then slung their blasters.
“Fuck,” Morgan said to him. “We thought you’d gone chill-happy.”
“I don’t do that,” Simon replied. Then he corrected himself. “Well, not often.”
Sam sidled over, handed Simon a bottle. Tanna began going through the chilled men’s clothing, taking anything that looked like it’d be good for trade.
“You ain’t alone, are you,” asked Sam.
Simon shook his head.
“Mary,” he called. “It’s okay. C’mon out.”
The bushes moved, and Mary stepped into the light, her blaster glinting in her right hand.
She shoved it into the holster, then walked up to Simon, hugged him, and looked at the others.
The campfire was almost a memory.
In the hours before, the stripped bodies of the sec-men were unceremoniously tossed into the stream, tied to pieces of wood with their own shirts. They would float for a few hours, then tumble over a little waterfall that fell into a placid pool.
This pool, which fed out into a poisonous river was the home of a vicious breed of mutie fish. A foot long, they were shaped like little torpedoes, and had razor-sharp teeth that could strip a man to the bone in seconds.
The bodies would be rendered down in minutes.
Now, the group rested, Morgan taking his turn at watch, pacing the perimeter of the clearing, listening for anything that could mean trouble.
Tanna curled up next to the fire, her blanket drawn close. She shivered, in the throes of some deep dream.
Sam lay flat on his back, his mouth open and snoring loudly. He’d spent his watch sharpening his blades as he walked, and they lay within easy reach.
John tried to sleep, but couldn’t. He was too wound up from the last few days, but when he finally relaxed…well, he hoped he fell somewhere soft.
Mary and Simon lay a little way off from the others, one of their sleeping bags spread under them, the other over them. Everyone slept clothed, but Mary had wiggled her pants down over her hips, and Simon had as well, giving each access to the other.
This was their third time tonight, Mary holding her hand over her mouth to stop from moaning. Simon was behind her, holding her hips as he thrust, feeling the fluttering that signaled her climax.
Gritting his teeth, he followed.
Afterward, they just lay there, each luxuriating in the others presence.
Maybe tomorrow, each reflected. Maybe tomorrow we’ll talk, and tell what we went through to find the other.
But for now…
An eye, covered over by blood, cracked open as a deep voice rumbled.
“I still have need of you.”
encourages me to continue.
know who you are.
keeps sending me
to my wife,
couldn’t do this without
he rest in