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Chryses's articles and reviews

A gamer for over 25 years. I play cards, boardgames, table top games, PC stand alone but more than anything I am a huge MMO fan. I go by the name Chryses, I have been Guild leader, trooper and crafter. I am an avid writer and I welcome you to my blog.

Author: chryses

The Hunger Within Chapter 5

Posted by chryses Thursday October 7 2010 at 9:10AM
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For first 4 chapters read below.  Chpt 5 is my favourite so far.
 
Chapter 5
 
For the first time in two weeks, the clone was able to stare down from the platform where she was held each night.  Today, for some reason, they had removed the black linen bag from her head.  There may be an alternative motive but she was grateful for being able to breathe in the cool desert air at least.  Below and directly in front of her vantage point, a few dozen Survivalists mingled in the main open area, whilst others ran from one place or another on some important errand.  Her instincts told her something was about to happen and it was no coincidence that she was allowed to watch. 
 
Not knowing if or how long she had before the sack was replaced, she took the opportunity to register her surroundings as much as possible.  The fortress was roughly an oval shape with walls climbing up to twenty feet or more.  The main staging area was approximately two hundred metre’s in circumference, and approximately thirty metres apart, galvanised ramps stretched awkwardly up to the fortifications which provided access to the four corner towers.  Two guards armed with ranged weapons manned each tower with another eight patrolling the walls.  She tugged at her restraints but it was no use, her ankles and wrists were clamped with three inch wide iron braces, which were connected to a steel pin bolted to the natural stone face that rose up behind her.  Blind folded each night, she was guided up one of the twisted ramps and secured in the same position, arms outstretched with legs pinned together.  She wondered if there was a religious motive to keep her in a crucifixion position, or maybe it was just pure sadism, she guessed the latter.  Whatever the reason, it pained her greatly, by morning the cramps in her arms, back and legs was almost unbearable, but she refused to show any signs of suffering to her tormentors.
 
Down to the right of the main area, she saw most of the captured children. Penned into small cages, roughly five feet wide and three feet high, the prisoners were rammed into a tiny space with barely enough room to sit, some of the older, taller children, had to rest with their heads bent forward or to one side.  For some unobvious reason two prisoners were separated and had ample room to themselves.  I wonder if they hit me more than the others, she thought.  To the left of their cages an underground den housed several large dogs that looked like a cross between a blight wolf and coyote.  It was hard to judge how many there were as their shaggy bodies were obscured by a metal grille that lay across the top of their enclosure.  Just at that moment, a piece of grating bounced up and a large snout baring long fangs pushed through, two handlers armed with spiked whips quickly pounced on the creature, lashing its muzzle until it succumbed and eventually retreated with a whimper. 
 
She noticed the numbers below had swelled past sixty or so and it was if the Survivalists were suddenly appearing out of the walls.  She didn’t see it the first time but the fortifications also made up most of the housing for the raiders.   Wrecked cars and other large scrap heaps not only made up part of the fortification but acted as sleeping quarters for the residence that lived here.  The monstrosity reminded her of a bee hive with a metal comb like structure, which was used to house most of its workers.  Her sharp eye counted enough accommodation for approximately half of the population below, so she surmised that additional quarters were concealed somewhere.  Her thoughts were cut short as the crowd below started to holler and bang random objects against the metal walls, the thunderous ding reverberated against the ramparts and roared out into the desert sky.
 
From her restricted position on the wall she heard the shouts from the prisoner before she saw him.  Eventually coming into her line of view, two stocky guards ordered the crowd to part as they dragged a shackled man between them, most moved out of the way but a few defiant raiders lashed out with a kick or knee.  One of the participants was rewarded with savage hook from the right escort; with a thud he hit the ground unmoving, those closest to him, laughed and immediately used their fellow Survivalist for kicking practice, one whooped with delight as he continued to stamp on his head.  The clone shook her head in shock; even throwbacks had a rudimentary level of kinship and loyalty to each other.  What she witnessed made her question if she was more human than those below her. 
 
Eventually the guards made it to the centre of the crowd.  It was the first time she had a good look at him, immediately her heart sank to the pit of her stomach.  “Bullet!” She screamed out, but the man had his back to her and her broken voice failed to reach his ears.  Dejected, she hung her head and let the tears stream down her chin.  Perhaps I’m wrong she thought, but she was sure it was her beloved.  Incapable of brushing the tears from her eyes, she blinked furiously and shook her head so she could focus once more.  One guard was busy fending off the rabid crowd whilst the other quickly clamped the prisoner to a metal pole in the centre of the main clearing.  She assumed it was the very same one she was tied to each day for her, so called, training sessions.  The prisoner’s voice was hoarse from screaming, and what was left of it was drowned out from the deafening ding, but it was obvious the man begged for mercy. 
 
Almost as quickly as the noise had erupted, a hush settled over the crowd.  The only sound came from the hounds in their underground enclosure, the handlers now armed with wooden stakes, jabbed at the beasts in what seemed to be an attempt to infuriate them.   Enraged by the Survivalists above them, they slammed their backs into the roof of their enclosure, with each blow she could see their matted hair poking through the grilles.  She watched the unfolding scene in disgust, such raw hatred and brutality could only be found in humans, and most humans have the nerve to call us clones an abomination, she thought.  Strangely no one else seemed to notice the display, the crowd now numbering well over a hundred were too transfixed on something directly below her.  Then, as one, they began to chant.
 
SANDMAN! SANDMAN! SANDMAN!  The crowd stomped their feet in time with each other, before long, clouds of dust swirled around the interior of the fortress, fine grit flung up by the human stampede blended with the gusty desert winds.  Turning her head, she tried to shield her eyes as she was suddenly struck with a blast of fine sand.  By now the crowd had reached fever pitch, some had even climbed the walls in pursuit of an optimum spot. Holding on with one arm, they leaned out attempting to gain a better view, hardly surprised, the clone watched with morbid fascination, as so called comrades and friends resorted to atrocious violence as they tried to compete over the same piece of real estate..
 
Like a celebrity greeting his fanatical fans, a tall, straight backed man with his arms raised above his head, stepped into her view.  He was unusually dressed for a Survivalist, unlike the others who wore trash as much as clothing, he was adorned in what looked like military fatigues right down to his matching cap.  In his right hand he carried a long blade, judging from the glint that ran up and down the edge it was obviously well kept and could be an indication that the man was of military training.  What the hell is he doing here?  Following in roughly two lines, six guards followed to the left and right of him, they also wore fatigues but judging from the cut and the way they fitted, she quickly surmised, that unlike their leader, the uniforms were not specifically tailored for them. 
  
The crowd were reaching fever pitch and for a brief moment, she thought they would turn on each other, already a handful of shoving matches had developed into full fist fights, each accompanied by their own small rabid crowd.  The leader, now in the middle of the clearing, motioned for quiet and the frenzy below slowed and finally came to a stand still, combatants dragged themselves off the floor and surprisingly, helped to dust each other off.  Their prophet like leader stood there, his arms in the air like some messiah blessing his devoted followers.  An uneasy silence was maintained for what felt like minutes, the crowd watched, waiting in anticipation for what was to come.
 
Then it erupted, with a rhythmic thunderous boom a noise vibrated throughout the fortifications.  The beat pulsated up through the railing, across the metal floor and into her legs.  The leader roared out and as one the crowd joined with manic fervour.  The sound continued and she froze in awe.  This was pre fallout music!  Although the quality was poor the words started to materialise above the howling guitar and furious drumming.  “….DON’T FORGET MY SON...TO...INCLUDE EVERYONE” 
 
The leader started to shuffle his feet in time with the beat, with each rhythmic thump, he moved ever closer towards the prisoner and the pole.  “I…TUCK YOU IN…WALKWITHIN” It wasn’t the first time the crowd had heard this song, most had caught up with the words and were happily bellowing them out with insane delight.  The prisoner, who had remained strangely quiet until now, lifted his head and twisted his neck to see what was happening behind him.  Catching sight of the military style leader and his razor sharp blade, he began throwing his body forward trying to break the shackles that bound him.  Their voices swelled up once more in time with the music.  “KEEP YOU… FREEFROM SIN.”  
 
The leader now stood in front of the prisoner, his vigilant bodyguards fanned out in a semi circle, watching the crowd for any zealous fan or possible contract killer.  As he rocked back and forth to the beat, he raised his sword above the prisoners head.  The clone screamed, the man cried and the blade fell.  Yet, the prisoner remained unscathed.  The Survivalists roared in approval as their chief missed on purpose and pretended to be embarrassed. He put his unarmed hand up to his mouth and looked out to his yelping fans with an exaggerated look of shock.  Those closest to him applauded feverishly, the music continued.  “SLEEP… WITH ONEEYEOPEN…” The sword fell again and again, each time edging closer to the prisoner.  With each failed stroke the crowd laughed, clapped more and sang louder. “GRIPPING YOUR… PILLOW TIGHT!”  With small satisfaction she watched the horrified children huddled together in their pens.  Even though they are forced to beat me, at least they are not fully corrupted…yet.
 
“EXIT LIGHT!”  This time the blade didn’t miss.  The prisoner screamed in pain as the blade dug deep into his thigh.  The clone still unsure if the man tied to the post was Bullet dropped her head in despair and this time she didn’t try to blink her tears away. “ENTER NIGHT!” Another roar and she heard him scream once more, unable to watch, she knew he had been cut again.  “TAKE MY HAND!” There were two more screams, the second substantially weaker than the first.  Raising her head, she forced herself to watch, she must know if it was her adored Bullet or not.  Her swollen red eyes widened in disbelief.  Unshackled, the man very much alive but severely hamstrung, was being dragged by two handlers towards an open hole above the enraged hounds.
 
Venom pumped through her veins, the raw hatred that swelled in her chest, actually surprised her.  She could only think of murder, although it really wasn’t, what she wanted was a cure.  The only option left for these cursed creatures was complete and utter extermination.  Their presence, even in the wastelands, was a virus that needed to be eradicated, forever. Even if one was left, it would be a like a cancer untreated and it would eventually spread, suffocating the land and those on it.  Steeled by her resolve, she forced herself to watch, she welcomed the hatred now and the scene unfolding in front of her only fuelled her loathing.  “WE'RE…OFF TO NEVER NEVER-LAND!”
 
The man finally succumbed and ceased struggling.  She watched as they dragged him by the heels towards the raised grate, his boots had only reached the edge, when three large jaws locked on to his feet. Like a loaded spring suddenly released, the rest of him flew down into the hole. Savage sounds erupted from the enclosure, grilles bounced up and down as the creatures underneath fought over, what must be a rare meal…or not.   Survivalist not wanting to miss the entertainment leapt off walls and rushed to the pits edge.  The clone watched, numb to the core she kept her eyes on the sickening spectacle, remember this, she told herself. Remember…
 
The sounds of the death had stopped along with the pre fallout music.  The leader had the crowd under control once more.  Addressing them she could hear his voice but they were too far away to understand their meaning.  On a few occasions the crowd would whistle and cheer in response to something he had said.  Then she noticed something, the odd one or two survivalists were staring at her.  More turned around and it wasn’t long before the one hundred strong crowd, all pointed at her position.  The leader still facing the crowd started to turn slowly around, just as he came face on, he slowly raised his left arm and pointed straight at her, shouting to the heavens he punched the air with his right fist, and then the crowd went wild with euphoria.

The Hunger Within Chapter 4

Posted by chryses Wednesday October 6 2010 at 11:05AM
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(Please read Chapter 1-3 below first)
Note: It seems I can not post all 4 chapters on the same blog.  If I can, please let me know how.  Otherwise I will probably keep it to 2-3 chapters per blog. 
 
 
Chapter 4
 
“Tch tch tch…what to do, what to do.” muttered Bullet to himself.  Standing alongside his ATV, he stared down the crumbling freeway, his destination lay approximately five miles straight ahead and then he would need to turn east and travel across open plains for another two.   He had concerns over the left side of the road, which ascended steeply into a rocky face that continued for about a mile before levelling out with the highway again.  No more than fifteen feet high at any point.  The visage was peppered with knotted, hardy shrubs, an obvious spot for a raider or throwback ambush.  Using his cracked lens he tried to spot even the faintest of movements, but like the last dozen times, he spotted nothing out of the ordinary. 
 
Bullet tried to put his paranoia and concerns to one side.  The sun was on its daily descent and in the past hour the unusual pains in his stomach had returned.  His only option was to make haste and drive through as quickly as possible.  Resting his tenderizer and axe across his lap, he jammed his foot down and kicked his ATV into gear.  The familiar hacking sound of the ATV’s engine grinding pistons together, reverberated across the rock-strewn surface.  Bullet didn’t know if anyone was watching but he was sure of one thing.  Every living creature within a two mile radius knew he was coming. 
  
As the setting sun filtered through the rustling scrub on the ridge, it cast twisted shadows across the freeway.  The spidery shapes jumped sharply, as the swirling desert air flowed through the thorny vegetation, bending them to its will.  Bullet heart quickened with each sudden movement and all his childhood fears begun to emerge once more.  He tried to reassure himself that his ATV was fast enough to out run any attempted ambush but his imagination was in overdrive…in his mind, Throwbacks came crashing down across his path, striking him with their enormous clubs, Survivalists threw nets out from the top of the ridge whilst hooded Judges took aim with their crude rifles, each had their own agenda, and ultimately wanted his life.  Bullet willed himself to remain focused.  He tried to stabilise his fears by thinking of the people he had ever loved in his, mostly, secluded life.   
 
A knowing smile broke across his face as his thoughts fell on Tucker.  A hardened Traveller, Tucker knew all of the abandoned tracks from Embry Crossroads all the way down to the southern settlements.  About every twelve weeks he would turn up and barter metal or rubber scrap that he had found in the wastelands.  In return, Bullet traded dried vegetables or toilet tank gin, something he had become proficient at making.  He let out a happy, ‘Ha’, as he recalled the times him and Tucker sat on his roof, admiring the setting sun, all the while, looking out for raiders who might dare to approach his fortified home. 
 
He always poked fun at Tucker telling him that, not only was he the best Scavenger he had ever met, he was also the worst trader.  After their business was concluded, Tucker insisted that they finished the gin he had just bought, and Bullet would insist on matching it with one of his finest.  Sitting on the roof, sharing their bottles of gin, Tucker would retell his famous stories of near death experiences and strange happenings from his travels in the wastelands.  His tales becoming increasingly funnier as the bottles were drained.  As usual, he always held back his best story to the very end and even though Bullet had heard it a hundred times, it always brought tears to his eyes.    
 
Pangs of guilt struck him as he thought of his old friend and what his companionship meant to him.  Tucker couldn’t travel anymore and had retired in a shanty town, unfortunately known for its squalor it lay just west of Embry.  He desperately wanted to visit his friend, but failing to secure work up north he had very little funds and even less fuel, so he was forced to head home.
 
Then there was his closest friend, Bella.  She would visit roughly each month to swap dried meat and sometimes, if he was lucky, some untainted milk.  Although she was at least ten years older than he was, they had become best of friends and even companions in the latter years.  The loss of her still pained him incredibly, in spite of everything, he retained a mental note to hunt down and kill the group that ambushed her.  Tucker was the one that broke the news to him all those years ago.  That week, they drowned their sorrows on his best gin, and even after Tucker left, Bullet lost the next six months in an intoxicated haze.  Yet, the memories, cruelly, remained.  The thought of his friends steeled his nerves, he needed to continue on, without him, Jessie will remain in brutal captivity and Bella’s soul will never rest in peace. 
 
The pains in his abdomen worsened, what used to feel like a bag of sand worms squirming in his stomach, now felt like a sack of wild cats shredding the inside of his belly.  The end of the rise was now within two hundred metres, he wondered if could make it.  Cursing his luck, he pulled back on the accelerator trying to maintain maximum throttle, his ATV responded with a loud backfire.  “Come on AC, get me out of here.” he said slumping over the handlebars.
 
Something inside him murmured, words not from his own thoughts resonated up through his chest and he found himself whispering incoherently, his lips twitched and a tingling sensation struck the right side of his face, the possessed babble continued, and the unknown words started to roll off his lips.  The rise eventually descended, levelling out on to the flat plains, but he barely noticed.  Clutching his stomach in agony he wanted to scream but his lips continued to move on their own volition.  He could almost hear the words now, but their meaning was cruelly snatched away as his body slammed into the dirt.
 
***
 
Blinking to clear the blood that had seeped into his eyes from the slash on his forehead, Bullet tried to orientate himself.  The impact had briefly stopped the pain in his stomach, but already the worms had returned and now he feared the tearing pains would soon follow.  As he tried to raise himself, the world spun madly about him, staggering in a circle he tried to find his balance but his legs betrayed him.  Like a mortally wounded animal, unwilling to surrender, he pushed himself up with his right knee but only managed to stagger forward a few steps before landing in the dirt once more.  He couldn’t be sure, but he was convinced he spotted a hooded figure watching him from the road.  Hope it’s not a faking Judge, he thought, and then his lights went out.

The Hunger Within - Fiction inspired by Fallen Earth

Posted by chryses Wednesday October 6 2010 at 10:25AM
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Note: I like to write fiction when I get a chance.  I wrote a short story based on a character called 'Bullet' set in the Fallen Earth world.  After completing the short story I wanted to continue the character and I have completed 4 full chapters with the 5th being finished now.  Have approximately 12 chapters in the pipeline.  It does contain gore and some unpleasant scenes so if you don't like that stuff, then this may offend. Thanks for taking the time to read.

 
The Hunger Within
 
Bullet buried his head under the rotting armpit of the swollen male corpse. The female survivalist paused on her patrol and moved her flashlight around his spot, but for the fifth time tonight she continued on her dawdling walk.  He let out his breath slowly and turned his head away from the maggots and swarm of insects that had slowly opened up a gaping hole in the corpses’ chest.  For three days Bullet lay in this spot planning his attack on the small survivalist band.  For three days he laid in his own piss and shit.  For three days he cursed the decision for leaving Jessie in Mumford, and getting himself into this freaking mess.  
 
He felt under the corpse and dragged out his crossbow and meat tenderizer.  The moment had come for him to act.  With no food, no water, no cash and an empty gas tank, he knew he was truly screwed.  If it wasn’t for Tommy the bartender back in Embry, giving him a few bolts, he would be running into this fight throwing sticks and stones.  He ran his fingers up the side of his crossbow and felt out the letters etched there, J.E.S.S.I.E.
 
His thoughts went back to his clone companion back on his farm in Mumford.  He would never forget how he met her.  On a blistering hot day, three raiders were busy stringing him up on his farmhouse porch, when three successive shots rang out across the landscape. Two raiders fell to the ground and lay motionless, the third and largest member, clutched his stomach and stumbled off the porch and fell to the dirt convulsing. A fourth shot made him still.
 
A few minutes later a female clone casually strolled down to his front porch, scoped rifle hanging by her side; with the back of her hand, she pushed her deep auburn hair away from her face revealing a dimpled smile.  She waved and shouted, “Howdy Farmer!”  Nodding towards his chest she chuckled, “Sorry about your shirt.”  With his hands still tied behind his back, Bullet looked down at the arterial spray covering his grey cotton top.  He looked back to his saviour and said, “How about we call it even then?”         
 
Five years on, Jessie and him became more than friends.  She wasn’t just his partner but his mentor, confidant and idol.  She was the first to recognise a mutant gene that he had inherited from his parents, a gene best left alone.  It ruined his parents, it overcame them, destroyed their minds, they were still out there somewhere, human in body, throwback in mind.  Jessie stopped his inevitable digression into a crazed mutant by teaching him how to understand and master his emotions.  That had worked well for a time, until now. 
 
***
 
The female survivalist was heading back to his location, this time he wanted to make it her last round.  He closed his eyes and pictured Jessie’s face for the last time; he doubted he would ever see her again.  He should have listened to her pleads not to head out for Embry to find work, but he dreamt of a better future for the both of them.  What he realised now was that their quiet life on the farm was more than any man could hope for. 
 
For the first time in three days he had a good look at the roaming guard.  Judging from her dishevelled look and crude weapon, the young survivalist was being used as a human tripwire.  It was evident that her companions considered her expendable to the group as the petite girl was hardly equipped to take on a coyote cub.  Shame he had to take her down first, she had a pleasant face, in a different place and life she could have been pretty.
 
Her flashlight moved across the ground in a rhythmic pattern, left to right, right to left, she was so close now, the crunch of the dirt under her boots was rapidly approaching.  In a prone position, he pressed his cheek tightly against the crossbow handle and lined her up slowly, thwack!
 
The poor girl hit the ground with a thud.  His bolt struck her just above the lip and it was if she had sprouted a second nose, this one bristling with dirty feathers.  Penetration was deep, cerebral damage instant and extensive.  No alarm was raised.  His first objective was complete.
 
Bullet rummaged through her clothing but found nothing of value.  Right now he needed sustenance.  Control over his altered genes was waning and he pushed back blasphemous thoughts of cannibalism.  Staring at the survivalist’s bloodied corpse he could only see a source of protein, another meal he desperately needed, after all, she was just a different type of meat.  For a moment he almost succumbed, but then something caught his eye.
 
Wrapped around her sticky throat hung a pendant, nothing of real value to the average Wastelander, but to him it meant everything.  He carefully undid the small clasp and held the trinket up to the moonlight.  A handmade figurine carved out from a small chunk of salvaged wood dangled in front of him.  Even in his disbelief he could not deny what he already knew.  This small, ordinary, inexpensive trinket was lovingly carved by him, for the only person worth dying for, Jessie!
 
The carotid artery on the side of his neck bulged as a rippling wave of blood forced it to widen, he howled out at the excruciating pain.  His inherited genes, for the moment, finally overcame his humanity, now he understood why his parents lost their minds.  Blood streamed down his nose and red tears fell from his eyes, he was blinded for a moment and then everything stopped…
 
The world slowed to a stand still.  He could see and hear so much more now.  He wondered how he could have not sensed everything before.  He unbuckled his scrap armour and let it drop to the dirt, it was cumbersome, constrictive and it was not needed.  Bullet stared down at the crossbow held in his red right hand.  His feral mind tried to comprehend what type of club this could be; it was unwieldy, unbalanced and awkward.  He threw it to one side.  A ding erupted no more than hundred metres away.  A human was banging his weapon against a sheet of metal screaming for his brethren to wake.  Bullet remembered why he was here.  Picking up the meat tenderizer he sprinted towards their camp.
 
***
 
Vix the all mighty Survivalist leader of the Embry Crossroad’s clan woke to an uproar in his camp.  Motorhead was sounding the alarm and screeching hysterically.  Their new recruit, Sweet Kira, would almost certainly be dead, that left six and him.  Unless this was a full scale attack from a rival faction, they would be fine. As long as he survived, he didn’t care if the whole freaking lot got killed.  He snatched up his favourite hatchet, Widowmaker, and stormed out of his tent.
 
***
 
Bullet had butchered his third prey in as many minutes.  They were undernourished creatures with little skill.  Using his tenderizer was almost unfair but it helped to dispatch them quickly.  He stood in the middle of the camp, arms hanging by his side, tenderizer in one hand, and a bloodied chunk of matted hair in the other.  His enhanced senses picked up four more life forms.  He could taste their scent on his tongue, adrenalin, sweat and fear.  Bullet rocked forward and roared in a guttural voice, “WHERE IS SHEEEE!!!”
 
***
 
Vix peered through a gap in a makeshift wall.  The camp fire reflected off the fresh gore that saturated the screaming man from head to toe.  He already knew that the stranger had killed Motorhead, Potface and Captain Kim.  Unanswered, their shrieking appeals for help and mercy ended abruptly in the night, one continued to whimper for a little while until a dull thump rang out like a hammer striking a melon, Thock! Thock! The moaning stopped on the second strike.
 
For just a moment, his thoughts lingered on Motorhead, it was a shame he ended up dead.  Vix recalled the day he murdered the kid’s parents on a farm outside Oilville.  Scavenging their property he found a child hiding next to the engine of a rusted out interceptor.  He named him Motorhead and from that day on he raised the little bastard to be an all out nasty piece of work.  He got some good mileage out of that boy and now he would have to kidnap another kid to make up for his loss.  
 
He wondered where the good for nothing chicken arses, Grunter, Jack and Lady J were all hiding out. No one got old in the wastelands for being a freaking hero and he knew that better than anyone.  Vix needed decoys and that meant regrouping with the others. Once he managed to spoon feed them to the human freak he could get the hell out of there. 
 
***
 
Bullet stood motionless.  His quarry decided to fight back, slowly they circled him, their breathing laboured and stressed.  His prey realised they had no chance individually, yet even now, they did not know their odds of survival had only increased slightly.  He marked his first victim, a tallish blonde male… chest exposed…grunting breath… right ankle dragging… he was their weakest member.  He spotted the alpha male in the group, a large human carrying a shiny sharp thing…he must have caution around this one.
 
The grunting blonde man finally fell out of his defensive position and he was now exposed, vulnerable, a runt waiting to be culled, his next feed.  Pupils dilated, muscles recoiled, breathing slowed, the predator launched himself at his prey.
 
***
 
Bullet used a frayed cotton thread to slide out the stringy tendon stuck between his incisor and canine teeth.  He never knew a human bite could cause so much damage.  Gingerly he dragged himself up to his feet and surveyed the carnage around him.  The rising sun revealed a scene that would make a Chota warrior recoil in horror, not him.  He was the architect of this bloody artwork and he had received what he came for, answers, equipment and sustenance.
 
Humanity returned with the sunrise.  His face welcomed the warmth from the tickling sun and his thoughts became sane, normal, and more human like.  He focused on his mental exercises and gradually the beast that was always part of him, slowly crept back into the darkness of his psyche.  Watching, waiting, it had become a living hunger he would now wrestle to control.  He tied up the fourth and final, laden pack to the rear of his ATV.  The suspension creaked and strained under the heavy load.  He was thankful that the Survivalists he slaughtered in the night had ample supplies, the majority of which was found inside their leaders’ tent. 
 
Gazing southwest he saw the tall pylons that he used as a landmark to direct him homeward.  Turning away from the towers and the ever brightening sun, he marked his new direction on the compass. Today he was driving northeast.
 
He knew the leader could have only told the truth.  Tied up like a dog, Vix resisted for a little while, but by the time Bullet had chewed off his fourth finger, the Survivalist answered every question willingly.  After discovering Jessie’s fate, Bullet realised he was still, even now, human.  His heart was heavy, guilt ridden, he felt foolish, ashamed, all emotions a human would feel.  Jessie had come in search for him.  He had been gone for over one month and she knew his supplies were limited.  Although she swore he was on his own, Jessie had still come for him, and now he knew she had been ambushed by a large raiding party on the southern road heading into Embry.  A smaller band led by Vix broke off to scavenge and raid smaller farms in the south, whilst the larger group headed back to their base in the northeast, with his beloved Jessie in tow.
 
Between his hacking sobs, Vix explained that clones were a precious commodity for their clan.  They made excellent live targets for their new recruits and guard dogs. He continued to reveal that the children they had recently kidnapped from the southern farms would be forced and encouraged to punch, kick and stone Jessie until she succumbed.  If they were going to be any use to the clan, all traces of love and affection needed to be crushed from their spirits.  Failure to participate meant they were weak, useless and expendable.  Following a night of torture and abuse, they would be strung up at dawn between the camps two sentry towers.  This would directly increase the fervour with which the surviving children undertook their next training session.  Writhing in agony he was forced to tell Bullet that their favourite entertainment was to chain a clone to a stump in the middle of a field and set their rabid dogs upon them.  Whooping at the maddening spectacle they would place bets on the amount of time it took for a clone, like Jessie, to be brought down by the frenzied beasts.
 
Bullet felt truly sick and it wasn’t the bloody gore he was currently digesting either.  Jessie would know that death would be her freedom and would yearn for it to overcome and embrace her.  Her mauled body would be shed like a cocoon and miles away in an underground life chamber, she would be reborn away from danger, pain and humiliation.  Yet the Survivalist also knew this.
 
Merely seconds away from her cold freedom, the raiders would drag her mangled, broken body away from the ravenous beasts.  All clones had the gift of rapid regeneration but now this would become her cruel curse.  Within hours, her body would heal itself and Jessie would face another dawn of torture, beatings and misery.
 
***
 
Bullet reached inside his leather jacket and withdrew a bright red apple he found in one of the tents.  Normally he would save such a rare fruit, but today may be his last.  Wolfing down the remains of the juicy flesh he imitated a baseball pitcher and launched the apple core at Vix's gawking head that was now jammed crudely on top of a blunt tent pole.  Thwock! The half eaten core shattered on his contorted face.  At least the southern farms would be safe for a while now, thought Bullet.  Out of curiosity he searched around for the rest of Vix’s remains, his memory of the night was dreamlike with only a few pockets of sanity.  Images of hacking away using the leaders’ hatchet and the endless screaming were vivid enough though.
 
He washed his hands using a little amount of tainted water and threw his leg over his ATV seat.  A coyote pack had cautiously approached the camp.  The remains of the slaughter began to reek under the morning sun and the wasteland beasts were always hungry.  A huge mutant dog led the pack and they had wandered dangerously close to his position and Bullet was in no mood to fend off the beasts.  He looked over his shoulder and gave Vix a respectful nod, the man had survived a long time in the wastelands and that had to be respected.
 
Now full of fuel, he jammed the throttle back on his ATV and it instantly roared into life.  Pushing his vehicle up to full speed he steered towards the sloping hills on the northeast horizon. He knew there were only two ways to free his beloved and he didn’t care which one he used.  Tonight he would free Jessie …dead or alive.
 
 
Chapter 2, the Hunger Within
 
“Get YA face down dog!”  To stress his point the Enforcer forced his metal heel into the back of Bullet’s head and gave it a sharp twist.  Bullet had a moment to reflect on his current situation.  Eight Enforcers had circled him on their dirt bikes and forced him off the road.  It was no surprise that they were on top of him before he noticed them.  His ATV had given him years of good service but the bastard sounded like a chainsaw going off in a toilet bowl.
 
            “Sir, I have ordered Ben to secure his ATV.  If you ask me, this one looks like a raider… permission to put two in his head SIR!"  The soldier respectively requested.  Footsteps approached their location and he heard a gun being cocked.  
“Joseph, Paul! Get him up!” Two pairs of hands grabbed him and hauled him roughly to his feet.
 
“Right now, things aren’t looking too good for you stranger.” The leader said in a matter of fact tone.  Taller than most, the officer had a relaxed pose, almost friendly like.  Bullet didn’t buy it; he could easily end up dead here.  He felt a knot turn in his stomach as his thoughts flickered back to Jessie.
 
     “You better start explaining what you are doing out here.” He waved towards to the open road and desert. “Otherwise…well, lets just say, Joseph over here will be the last person you will see.”
 
Just like that, Bullet thought, wasteland justice in its simplest form, a mere business transaction, a negotiation that required your life if it went wrong. 
“I’m a farmer.”  That’s’ all he could say.  He wanted to continue but unknown to the Enforcers, all of Bullets strength was, barely, holding a shadow at bay.  A primal instinct taunted him, it highlighted his weakness as a warrior; you should be killing them, killing them all, it hissed. 
 
Impatiently the Enforcer scratched his brow under his tilting helmet.  “Ok, ok.” The Captain glanced at Joseph and raised his right hand.  Bullet waited for the order to fire but it didn’t come.  “Why don’t you tell us where you are from then?”  The Enforcer asked almost politely.  Yet, his hand remained raised.
            “Just south of Mumford” replied Bullet. 
“Bullshit!” yelled an old Enforcer standing to the right of Bullet.  He was armed with a wicked looking shotgun, which he now prodded into the side of Bullet’s head.  The leader clenched his fist, a clear sign for order. 
            “Problem we have here stranger is that you are two days drive from Mumford and heading in the wrong direction.”  He nodded towards Bullets’ vehicle, “And I haven’t even started to ask about all that blood soaked equipment on your ATV yet.” 
 
            One of the platoon members who had been searching through his packs approached and handed a gleaming hatchet to the Captain.  He flipped the weapon and made a few shadow strokes in the air. 
            “Nice weapon well put together, expensive steel and fine balance.”  He glanced sideways at Bullet and continued, “Something I doubt a farmer could afford to buy or have the skills to make.” He turned it over a few more times, paused, and dug his nail into the crusted blood that had covered the joint between the handle and head of the axe.  “With a few strokes it could even be good enough to take a person’s head clean off… wouldn’t you say farmer?”  
 
            Bullet breathed in deep and exhaled slowly.  Enforcers unlike most factions could be reasoned with.  They preached law and order but, for the most part, if you were not an Enforcer or pay for their protection, then you were expendable to the good of their cause.  Primal instincts bubbled beneath the surface, like a salivating dog waiting for his master to give him the order to feed, his other self, aroused by the potential for bloody chaos, waited impatiently to be unleashed.  Bullet knew, even in his other form, he would be no match for the heavily armoured soldiers who held him at gunpoint.  Head down, he shrugged his shoulders and focused on his breathing.
 
***
 
            Never thought I would see you again, Bullet thought.  At first he did not recognise Vix’s head lying in front of him.  Fang marks peppered his face and most of the soft flesh had been stripped away.  The coyotes had gnawed his skull like a child chews on a toffee apple.  Knotted sandy coloured hair with the high brow and sharp nose were distinct features of the Survivalist leader, besides thought Bullet, how many other chewed up heads could the Enforcers have found out there.  Becoming increasingly annoyed, the platoon leader had moments ago, reached into a canvas sack, and threw a head into the dirt in front of him.  “Hey Farmer, ever seen him before?!”
 
Bullet stared at the ground.  Enforcers hunted Survivalists frequently and the two factions were constantly at war with one another.  They wouldn’t care if he had killed one or one hundred, but the truth about last night would unlock too many questions. 
 
            “You don’t seem too bothered by it.” Stated the Captain sharply.  Pacing behind his leader, Joseph looked a little too keen to move the discussion to what, he probably thought, was another inevitable road side execution. 
            “I have seen enough heads without bodies before.” Replied Bullet solemnly.
            “Ok, now you have my interest, where was that?” The leader removed his helmet and wiped the sweat off his brow with the back of his finger.  He was layered head to toe in full Kevlar and his combat belt carried enough ammo for a small war.  This was no scouting party, thought Bullet.  These boys were the assault force and something out there was going to be hit really hard and will most likely have a very bad day.     
            “Back near Mumford when I was a child.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno, around twenty years ago I guess.” 
            “I knew it!” A voice yelled out to his right.  Lowering his shotgun, the old soldier grabbed him by the shoulders, swung him around and waved his finger in his face.  “I facking know you!”
 
            Now it was Bullet’s turn to be interested.  During his roadside trial he caught the old warhorse staring intently at him, there was a strange, distant familiarity about him.  Like a creature coming out of winter’s hibernation, a memory buried deep within his psyche, stirred and raised its drowsy head, a trigger had been activated and the pain of his childhood started to return once more. 
 
            The old Enforcer scrutinized Bullet up close.  There faces were so close now.  Bullet could even smell the canned meat on his breath.  Eyes widened, the old soldier shook his head in disbelief. 
            Turning to his confused leader he said, “Captain, I swear this is the Hammond’s kid I saved way back on Red Tuesday! “ 
 
            Bullet staggered back, his suppressed memories spilled out, and leapt over each other trying to slap his awakened consciousness first.  Forgotten images flashed through his mind like a photo album on speed dial.  He remembered back all those years ago, how his parents tried to shield his eyes and turn him away from the danger that approached.  Memories were a curse in the wastelands.  Sorrow, anger and hunger were all too common, joy, happiness and love were feelings seldom felt or experienced.  Life in this world was just one long road of hurt.   Like maggots, thriving at the bottom of a shit can, the last remnants of humanity struggled within the shelter, in what their ancestors used to call the Grand Canyon.  Unfortunately for humanity, so did all the shit. 
 
***
 
            “What are those lights mum?” Bullet asked nervously.  Like fireflies that fluttered on the farm porch at night, a dozen lights flickered across the road.  It seemed, for each second that passed, they drew closer to their location.  
 
            He could hear his mother screaming, “Get him out of here!”  His father forced him into the back seat of a rusted out wreck, threw his winter coat over him and told him to lay still.  If only he had listened to his father…
 
            Huddled behind the driver’s seat, ten year old Bullet trembled with fear, his teeth felt like they would shatter as they clattered from his uncontrollable shuddering.  He had to look but his father told him not to.  He could hear screams followed by howls of anguish and pain, then a moment of quiet before more shrieks echoed across the night.  He listened and strained to hear any sign of his parents, but he never knew, the last words he would hear, from either of them, came from his protective father…“Sshhh, lay still son.”
 
            Eyes closed, he lifted his head just high enough to see over the edge of the rusted car door. He couldn’t, wouldn’t open his eyes.  He kept telling himself, as long as they were shut, he was safe.  It had been quiet now for what seemed like an eternity.  Surely his parents would return shortly, his father was a massive man and he used to joke that he could take on a pack of Blight Wolves all by himself.  His heavy coat was big enough to fit Bullet five times over and he dreamt of growing up to be as strong as him, but now his father was gone…
 
            Squinting, Bullet tried to focus in the moonlight.  He desperately hoped to see any sign of his parents.  He didn’t know what they tried to hide him from but he knew it must be close by.  They were returning from a long trade with the friendly people in Mumford and he remembered his parents were in good spirits from the profits they had made.  His mum even teased that they were going to buy him his first crossbow and he could finally go hunting Blight Wolves with his father next month. 
 
            As always, his dad scouted ahead whenever they travelled.  He would never forget the look on his fathers face as he came running down the road towards them.  His mum must have known something bad had happened, she clutched him tight and whispered in his ear not too worry. 
 
            “They have hit us!” His father had yelled.  His parents embraced and whispered something to each other.  His father looked away but his mum had gazed down at him with such affection, but even at his young age he could see regret and sorrow in her eyes.  Later in life, it was apparent, that at that moment they were saying their goodbyes to him.   He just wished he knew what they had said to each other. 
 
***
 
Now open, Bullet’s eyes finally adjusted to the moonlit landscape, he couldn’t see his parents but there was something else lying all over the road. With a squeal he dived under seat. Bullet had seen a dead body before but he had never seen so many…in so many pieces. 
 
***
 
            Just like Harvest festival they were all gathered in the town square.  Ted Cole, the armour smith and his funny apprentice John.  Jack Taylor the baker who managed to make any ingredient taste like real bread.  Simone the First Aid trainer and her pretty teenage daughter who always had a smile for Bullet, the devoted Mayor was also there but he was further down the back.  His wife was positioned near the front with the entire Smith clan and some of the newer traders who had recently settled in their budding outpost.  Everyone was there except for his mum and dad.  Lined up like desert poppies, all the heads of the people he had ever known and loved in his life were now jammed awkwardly on top of wooden fence posts.  Eyes that once were full of hope and dreams of a better life, now stared blankly into the nights sky. 
 
***
 
Chapter 3
 
The Survivalist fortress stood out in the desert like a large metal tumour. If the desert was a womb and the Survivalist raiders its blood line, the monstrosity was its mutated metal child. It had grown organically over the years and had seemingly taken a life on all by itself.  Wrecked cars, fridges and any other object that could repel live rounds were mounted on top of each other and looked like a monster block game a child would play.  A network of metal veins covered the exterior interlinking each object at several points for stability, but it seemed if one was cut, the whole structure would collapse.  What looked like a metal hernia ready to explode, the midsection on the east side, bulged out precariously, but it somehow defied gravity and still managed to rise twenty feet into the air.
 
            “One…two…three…no, wait… four guards are out front.  Two have some sort of ballistics and the other two are using hockey sticks.” reported reconnaissance to the Officer. 
            “Roger that.”  Harry pulled down his visor to block out the glare from the sun but still needed to shield his eyes with his right hand as he strained to pick out any additional guards roaming the perimeter.  This was his fifth year leading the special tactics unit for the Enforcers and they had a perfect record, so why did he feel so uneasy this time.  He sensed his unit felt the same and, as always, wanted to show a resolute front.    “Give me eyes on the four watch towers. I want to know if we are dealing with crossbows, automatics or something more.”
            “Yes sir.” responded Aiko.  He signalled with his two fingers informing Niko that they were moving out, Niko responded with a thumb up. 
 
With a bemused smile, Harry watched his two snipers filter into the underbrush, they hardly signalled to each other anymore, two of them were inseparable and worked as one unit, but that hadn't always been the case. Both excelled at the Academy and frequently came to blows during the skirmish challenges and other graded competitions. Their determination and unwillingness to relinquish to one another, ended with both spending time in the hole.  It didn't work.  Harry was given the task of moulding them into a tight unit, but he didn't have to, war had done the job for him.  Just over two years ago, up in the northwest of Sector one, the Judge’s incident had almost cost them both their lives.  They were fiercely loyal to each other and shared a common bond, something, only blood and death can forge.  His heart swelled with pride at the thought of Niko standing over the crippled Aiko, refusing to retreat, even though, he found out later, Aiko had begged him to.  It was a routine mission involving the scouting of a large raider force, known as the Judges, which had set up camp within two miles of Trailer Park.  Aiko, most likely spurred on by Niko, had ignored strict orders to observe only, and tried to take down their leader, he only succeeded in killing one of the bodyguards and bringing the fury of more than twenty raiders down on their position.  It was over ten minutes before he and the others had reached their location.  Taking cover in a shallow ditch, it was obvious Niko had just run out of ammo.  With his right foot planted firmly on Aiko’s chest, he was swinging his rifle like a crude club trying to crush the arms of a raider, with whom he was playing a game of human tug-of-war over his comrade’s still body.  Harry quickly ended the game by unloading his GA-8 sidearm into the cloaked raider.  Incredibly, he didn’t lose anyone on that rescue mission, but three more took semi serious wounds, before they all managed to make a tactical retreat.
 
Since that eventful day, both Aiko and Niko became close like brothers. He had lost count of the times they had saved each others life.  Their reputation preceded them and the Enforcer’s used them as an example for their new recruits.  However, their enemy’s hatred for the pair spread far in equal measure and the bounty on both their heads reflected this.  Together, they were a deadly weapon that could be wielded by Harry, and he did, frequently.
 
Before long the Captain lost sight of both scouts, they were exceptional at making themselves invisible, even to his trained eye.  Flipping back his visor he lifted his binoculars, which hung around his neck and tweaked the dial until he had a clear view of their target.  It was the fourth time he had studied the front of the fortress and even now he still didn’t have an answer for what he saw. 
            “Jack, take a look at this.” He pointed at the entrance to the Survivalist fortress and handed the binoculars to his second in command.  “That gate must weigh about what, three or four ton? How the hell do they move that thing?” he said quietly so only Jack could hear. 
            Jack passed back the binoculars.  “Not sure Captain, I can’t see any chain or pulley system.  Possibly an underground rail but I don’t see any wheels.”  The old enforcer cupped his face, with his right hand, and scratched his five day growth.  “Even with vehicles that would take about six interceptors to pull it over and this sort of scum don’t drive.” 
            “True, true…I bet Kazumi will enjoy bringing it down though.” muttered Harry.  He looked over his shoulder and he could see Joseph, Paul, Kazumi and Jane had stripped off all of their non essential equipment and were now in their full combat kit.  With Niko and Aiko scouting deep into enemy territory, they had to be ready to roll in if, in the unlikely scenario, they were spotted by the Survivalists.  Most squads would gladly leave a stranded sniper to their fate but Harry was of a different breed.  Even against severe resistance, if you fought under his command then you better be prepared to rescue a comrade under fire, no one, dead or alive, gets left behind under his watch.
 
He gave Jack a light rap to his Kevlar breastplate and gave a quick nod to walk with him.  Once out of earshot from the rest of the squad, Harry put his hand up to stop the old soldier.  Looking out towards the Survivalist fortress and the setting sun, he asked his second in command and long time friend. 
            “Jack what’s up?  Something isn’t right here and you are not taking control of the squad.  The team suited up because they couldn’t wait any longer for you to give the order.”  There was an uneasy pause before he continued.  “I have to say Jack…something isn’t right with this mission.  My gut is telling me something and I can’t seem to put my finger on it.”  He turned away from the fortress and looked at his friend.  “I really need you at your best on this one Jack.  Shit... I would take you at your worst if I have to, that would still be better than most.”
            “Sorry Captain.”  Harry flinched at the official title.  He went through the academy with Jack and he was always the lesser soldier.  He could even say, on occasion, Jack helped him pass some of the core modules in training.  The qualities that made Jack an exceptional soldier, Harry had as an officer and strategist.  Even so, he never felt quite right about the older and stronger soldier calling him Captain. 
            Jack continued.  “Its just…seeing Hammond’s kid really shook me up.”
            “I guess you didn’t think he would survive.”  Harry glanced over to where he thought his Snipers would be by now.  Even from a mile away he could see no alarm had been raised from the fortress, he turned back to Jack.  “It must have been a surprise to see him right?”
            “Yea sure…”  Jack looked down at the ground his face twisted with concentration.  “It’s just…I don’t think throwbacks wiped out Vix and his gang last night.”
            “Who did then?”  Harry focused on Jack for an answer but the enormity of what he was suggesting had already hit him.  “You can’t be serious?”
            Jack nodded, eyes fixed on his leader he spoke slowly and quietly.  “It has been bugging me since we came across Vix’s body and what was left of his group.”  He shook his head and continued.  “The randomness of it all, remember we thought it was a grenade attack?  Such fury even surpasses the worst Throwback.  Then I remembered…”
            “The executions of all the townsfolk on Red Tuesday?” interjected Harry.
            “Not the townsfolk Captain…I am talking about all the dead raiders.”  His captain remained stone silent, so he continued.  “We must have spent three years working out what happened.  Remember the rumours about a new weapon or combat enhancing drug the CHOTA had supposedly created? And the endless campaigns to retrieve the schematics or possible sample?  How many soldiers did we waste on that?  After all those years of fighting the worst thing we found, were faking sharp axes and a load of rancid booze.  The thing is…I always knew the truth…”
            “Jack, you know I was a front line officer in those campaigns…“  For a split second Harry’s mind flickered back to his past conflicts.  “Shit, I lost a lot of good men…why are you telling me this now?”
            “Sorry Harry.  I thought it was all over.”  The captain quietly surprised at Jack’s drop in protocol, pressed him to continue. 
            “What was?”
            “That’s the thing.  I know the truth but I still don’t know the answer.  All I can say is that we thought the blood line, or whatever the bloody hell they were, had died off with that kid.  Who would have thought a ten year old could have survived out here.”
            Harry’s authoritative nature kicked in. “Describe ‘we’.”
Jack looked back at his soldier brothers and sister, they didn’t seem to notice the intense talks between him and their captain, or they were polite enough to pretend not to. 
            “Myself and three members from some special unit, these boys were hard, I mean the kind that really fakin scare ya. They would eat newborn if they were ordered to.  Jack read Harry’s mind and answered his question.  “I don’t know their real names or what group they were from Captain.  That is the truth.” Harry nodded in understanding.
            “Our mission was to find answers.  What we came across was hard to believe and I still didn’t believe it until now.  We tracked his parents.”  Jack looked over Harry’s shoulder.  Jane walked slowly towards them and was careful to make enough noise so as to alert command of her presence. 
            “Sir, Niko has reported in.  The towers have two sentries each, all but one, have crossbows.  He also believes one has a Rimfire rifle.”
            “Thanks Jane, tell them to continue their surveillance.”
Jane saluted and walked back to the others promptly, but tried to make it not so obvious that she wanted to get away from the two men as quickly as possible.
            “She is a good recruit that one.” remarked Jack.
            “We always lacked a specialist close combat fighter… I hope she is up to it.”  Harry replied looking back at his new recruit.  “I watched her take down three seasoned fighters in an unarmed contest.  But let’s see if she can slice open a neck or hand a man his guts, using that fancy knife of hers and not think twice about it.  Sport is one thing but…” his thoughts returned back to their conversation.
            Jack didn’t have to be asked to continue.  “Besides the kid, the only two people who didn’t get killed were his parents.  So you can understand we spent a lot of time tracking them down…”  The old soldier’s voice drifted off as he stared into the distance.  For just a moment Harry thought he could see a tear in Jack’s eye, he had never seen his friend like this before. 
            “Jack?”
            “Yea…some um…some travellers told us they had heard some shrieking like noises echoing up from the valley near Mumford.  It was a well known spot where all sorts of scum like to camp out.  I don’t want to tell you all the details Captain but...”
Damn, thought Harry, this really has affected Jack.
            “…I was guarding the bikes when one of the Special Forces spotted them.  I didn’t see them, they wouldn’t let me.  I figured it was Command’s business and they wanted to capture one of them or something, who knows.”  Jack paused for a moment and raised his face towards the setting sun.  “…strange isn’t it…just before any battle the setting sun looks so much nicer…”
Harry nodded in agreement. 
            Jack continued.  “I am not sure how long I stood by those bikes Captain but something went wrong, seriously wrong.” He let out another small whistle between his teeth.  “I…um…I heard them Harry...”  Still staring into the sunset Jack rubbed his temple nervously.  “You know…I have lost count on how many people I have killed and I have never heard anyone scream like that before.”
            “What did you do?” 
             Jack looked down at his feet and shook his head. “…Once the screaming stopped…I thought I could hear them approach my location… I panicked and ran.”
            Harry couldn’t help but frown, he didn’t want to judge but he had never heard of Jack ever running away from a fight, especially when his comrades were under fire. 
            “I ran so hard Captain.  I think I would have broken all sorts of records.” He glanced up and both men managed a thin smile.  “I ran down into the valley and I only stopped when I came across the bodies.  I have never seen such a faking mess.  I hate raiders more than anyone I know, but not even these ones deserved what they got.  I don’t know what his parents had become, but seriously Captain, I even saw facking teeth marks on the bodies.  They were like some old vampire shit you hear about in those ancient novels.”  Jack screwed up his face.  “I don’t think they were just sucking blood Cap. I think they were living off the flesh…”  He glanced up at the desert sky.  “I am not even sure God could forgive them for what they had become.”
            “What did you do?”  Harry instinctively reached out to grab his friends shoulder but stopped short. 
            The old soldier breathed in deeply and exhaled through his teeth letting out his trade mark whistle. 
            “I knew the kid must be the same, so I headed back to their farm.”  He shuffled his feet, embarrassed with what he was about to say.  “I headed back to kill the kid.” shaking his head with guilt he continued.  “I knew I wasn’t strong enough to kill his parents.  So I thought I would kill the boy and stop him becoming the same.”
            “Holy shit Jack.”  Harry scratched his face, a nervous habit he had unfortunately acquired over the years.  “You’re saying that we just left one of those things back on the road, just an hour’s drive behind us?  He seemed normal to me.”
            “Sorry Captain.  I wasn’t sure until now.  I don’t know why he hasn’t flipped like his folks.  I did some digging around in Mumford and all the traders who knew them, said they were a good family, albeit physically bigger than most, especially the dad.  What is strange is that no one knew where they came from.  Seems they just took over an abandon farm and became part of the community...”
            Jack paused when Harry raised his hand, signalling for silence.  The Captain had just spotted Kazumi talking into his headset and was looking decidedly agitated. 
            “I don’t think we have much more time.  I just hope this kid, or whatever he is, doesn’t end up being a problem for us.”  Still keeping an eye on Kazumi he asked.  “Why didn’t you kill him?”
            “I scouted his parent’s farm for three days and there was no sign of him.  I was about to leave on the fourth but then he appeared out of no where and proudly told me it worked.”
            “What did?”
            “His new hiding spot.”  Smiling, Jack shook his head. “Since I saved him, he obviously thought I was no threat.  The cheeky rat was watching me the whole time.  He insisted on staying on the farm at all costs, because in his words, ’I want to keep the place tidy for mum and look after dad’s garden.’  It broke my heart Captain…he showed me his hiding spot.  Right under his mum and dad’s bed he had lifted the boards and dug a hole, it was barely deep enough for him to lay flat in.  I spent two more days on the farm, I even helped him board up the windows and front door.  Before I left, he gave me some dried rations his parents had kept hidden, I asked him why.  He told me that his parents taught him, that in the wastelands, you always gave shelter and food to those you call a true friend.  I still remember him handing me the rations and telling me, that I was now, hisonly true friend in the world.”
            “Damn, they actually sounded like a nice family.”
            “Agree…I left soon after but before I went, I gave him an old meat tenderizer and crude crossbow, which I kept from the clean up of Red Tuesday…There was no way I could harm that kid Captain.”  Jack shrugged.  “Besides, I thought the Wastelands would consume him within a month.”  His voice trailed off in thought.  “He was only ten years old Harry…I didn’t want the last memory of his young life to be of his only ‘true’ friend trying to kill him…shit, imagine that?”
  
Harry could only nod.  He tried to imagine his comrade’s excitement at seeing the boy, now a man, alive but also carrying the burden of knowing what he will, most likely, become.     
            “We need to discuss this later.  Come on, Kazumi is signalling us.”
 
The four crack troops snapped to attention as Jack and Harry approached.  The Captain noticed a few fleeting sideways glances between them and he knew the content of his conversation between himself and Jack would be speculated on, for weeks to come.
            “Kazumi you have something to report?”
            Kazumi slightly red faced took a moment to breath before proceeding. “Captain, Niko has reported something of great interest.”  
            “Why don’t you just tell me what he has reported and I will decide if it’s interesting.” The Captain couldn’t help but reveal his frustration of Kazumi.  The soldier excelled in explosives and was proficient at keeping their signal equipment working, but he really needed to get to the point, especially in the field.
            Kazumi cleared his throat with a nervous cough. “It’s not what they have seen Captain…it’s what they have heard.”
 
 
           
Chapter 4  - on separate blog