Scott sped his dirty black muscle car down the battered pockmarked road that used to be Interstate 94. Dirt swirled in the air behind him leaving a telltale cloud resembling smoke from a burning vehicle. A destroyed and burning vehicle was a sight very familiar to Scott. Many of those vehicles were ones he destroyed; others were the victims of the roving packs of wasters.
The sun was high in the sky and its heat beat mercilessly down upon the parched wasteland. Over a decade ago, this all would have been part of the American Breadbasket. Now, it was the Great American Desert or as most people called it -- The Wastes. Scott took a sip from his water bottle as the car bumped down the rough highway. The warm water felt great washing away the dust and dirt coating the inside of his mouth, which was brought on by days of traveling through this sun baked and weathered land. The dead gray skeletal trees passed by in a vast sea of hard packed earth, most of the loose topsoil had blown away long ago.
A quick scan of the monitor mounted in the dash told Scott that he had company joining him from the rear. Boiler plating now replaced the rear and side windows of the 1970 Dodge Charger. A modest slit in both the driver and passenger's side steel plated windows allowed Scott to scan his mirrors. The windshield was reinforced bulletproof glass. Other modifications included the steel armor that encased the former muscle car, bulletproof tires, a beefed up suspension, an enclosed environmentally controlled cab, and a larger more powerful turbocharged engine to pull the heavier car. Two huge fifty-gallon self-sealing gas tanks took up the rear seat. There were no fears of gas shortages anymore. Not since the Big Bang that is. Nestled between the tanks were Scott's provisions and his .30-06 hunting rifle.
The camera mounted in the trunk revealed a gang of bikers closing in on Scott's Charger. Chances are that this meant trouble, but there was always the chance that these were Light Scouts escorting a convoy. Scott readied the two .30 caliber machineguns mounted inside the front fenders. The two .50s mounted outside the fenders Scott kept in reserve. He did not like to waste the ammo if he could avoid it. Being a Scout paid well, but .50 ammo still tended to be pricey.
Scott had been driving close to 100 miles per hour before he noticed the bikers. His car could easily do 120 or even 130 if he pushed it. Even with the problems of maneuvering a heavy car like this at high speeds, it would not be a problem on the old straight North Dakota highway as it bisected the horizon, diminishing in the distance. However, Scott did not want to run, he gradually slowed the Charger down. The roar of the engine relaxed to a purr as the vehicle reached 80. The bikers rapidly closed in.
Ding! Ding! Bullets from the light rifles (probably .30-06 hunting rifles) on the bikes told Scott that these were not friends. The small caliber rifle fire could not penetrate the Charger's armor; nonetheless, Scott did not like the idea of someone shooting at him. He waited until the bikers were close to his rear before he slammed on the brakes.
The bikers were caught by surprised. They evidently had never dealt with a Scout before. Two of the cyclists slammed into the trunk crushed between their bikes and the rear armor. Four others shot around the Charger and regrouped in front of it. Scott smiled behind his helmet; these wasters were obviously new to the game. He accelerated and depressed the finger trigger mounted behind the steering wheel. The .30 guns opened up tearing one biker to shreds before the Charger pounced upon the motorcycle's wreckage like a tiger on a deer. There was a slight bump inside the cab as Scott drove over the waster and his bike.
Two bikers peeled off in opposite directions and headed for the open land, the third tried to outrun the Charger on the road. The lighter motorcycle was pretty much stock from its original construction. Whatever modifications done to it was the mounting of a rifle to the front and maybe some engine work. Therefore, it took off like a jackrabbit before a hound.
The bike may be faster and more maneuverable than the modified Charger. However, there is one thing it was not. Scott depressed the trigger again. The .30 guns spat fire and steel at the fleeing waster. Within seconds, driver and cycle were just another smoking pile of broken wreckage on the highway.
These wasters were inexperienced; then again, no one since the Big Bang had decided to scout out the northern roads before. The wasters were more than likely used to preying on helpless nomads or the occasional lightly guarded convoy trying a new and unsecured route. However, once this road was open to trade the Twin Cities could join the rest of the recuperating United States.
Two months before, the U.S. was surprised to hear a message from St Paul, Minnesota. The atmospherics were just right for the message to make its way west. After the Big Bang, the upper atmosphere had dramatically changed. Super windstorms ripped through the air. The raging winds tore planes that flew too high to shreds. Rock storms occurred after the winds ripped stones and boulders off mountain peaks and tossed them to the earth below.
The message was short but it indicated that St Paul was alive and was looking for fellow survivors. The U.S. government desperately needed a secure spot in the Midwest to secure a northern trade route to the eastern seaboard. Scott's job was to secure that route.
Abandoned and wrecked vehicles choked Interstate 94 just before Scott reached Minneapolis. The short radio conversation the new government had with St Paul warned of the various gangs and warlords who now ruled the city west of the Mississippi. Scott had no choice but to turn off and make his way through the unfriendly territory. Years of being a scout trained Scott to be extra cautious in cities. Wasters on the open highway were a lot easier to deal with than combating hostiles in a labyrinthine city. Old maps were of little use as the gangs would have changed the landscape significantly to lure the unsuspecting into a trap.
Scott was not new to this, but he still had very little knowledge of the current layout of Minneapolis. What roads were unblocked? Which one led to St Paul? The map on his monitor was at least twelve years out of date.
The black ‘70 Dodge Charger slowly wound its way through the wreckage and debris of Minneapolis in the morning twilight. Although, the missiles had overlooked it, the plague had done some of its own work here. That fateful day over twelve years ago released the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse upon the Earth. No country no matter how remote was unscathed. If the nukes did not get you, the biological and chemical weapons did
The warring gangs had left Minneapolis a burned-out and shattered city. The ravaged IDS building resembled a mangled and blackened skeletal hand clawing its way up towards the heavens like a drowning person desperately reaching for help. It was as good a representation of the dead city as any monument could ever be.
Scott was surprised that he had made his way onto University Avenue inside Dinky Town without encountering any of the gangs reputed to dwell inside this debris-filled metropolis. The trek here had taken the scout past the destroyed buildings of the University of Minnesota and he spied the burned out husk of the Metrodome in the distance.
Suddenly fire spread across the windshield. Someone had tossed a Molotov cocktail onto the hood of the Charger. Scott instinctively hit the switch for the camera mounted under the hood. The black and white image on the monitor was not that easy to navigate with, but it was a lot better than trying to see through flames.
Nonetheless, Scott put his foot down on the accelerator. The old car rapidly picked up speed. The flames flew backwards over the windshield with its flammable liquid trailing behind. Next, a heavy foam shot onto the bulletproof glass as Scott flipped another switch, dousing the flames. The wipers made easy work cleaning the rest of the mess off the windshield.
A flip of yet another switch returned the view from the trunk-mounted camera onto the monitor. A small red Toyota truck with a half-dozen gang members was trying to catch up with the Charger. Scott smiled, now the cat was out of the bag. Bullets fired from small personal arms dinged off the rear armor inflicting no more damage than some scratched paint.
Scott scanned the road ahead looking for anything that might help him turn the tables on his pursuers. Then he spied the old pitted parking lot outside a burned out Baker's Square. Scott hopped the Charger over the sidewalk and onto the lot, he drove the car past the burned out restaurant and back onto a side road. Without losing speed, Scott pulled the car back onto University, but this time he was heading back towards Minneapolis and the beat-up red Toyota truck.
The driver of the truck was clearly surprised to see the Charger now coming towards him. His fellow gang members opened up with everything they had as the muscle car approached them in a high-speed version of "Chicken".
Scott was not interested in playing games with these guys. He did not hesitate to open up with his valuable .50 machine guns. The solid rounds punched through the red truck like a sharp pencil puncturing a sheet of paper. The truck swaggered and black smoke poured out from under the hood. Many of the gang members dropped down inside the truck bed to escape the putrid and oily smoke.
Scott swerved his car onto the sidewalk on his right as he shot past the speeding and nearly out of control truck. As the red vehicle sped past, Scott wrenched the steering wheel hard to his left as he hit the breaks. The Charger's tires squealed in protest as he swung the car behind the truck.
The surprised gang members in the truck bed started to pound on the rear window of the Toyota's cab. The driver, who had remarkably survived the onslaught of .50 bullets, took a quick glance back to see Scott hot on his tail. He tried to make the truck accelerate, but he engine was all but dead. Only more black smoke belched out from under the hood. He then tried to swerve the truck out of way of the Charger's guns.
More deadly projectiles spat out of the .50 guns as Scott depressed the thumb button on his steering wheel. Only a short burst was need to chew up the truck. The speeding wreckage soon lost all control and flew off the road and into a building on its right. Flames shot into the sky as the truck impacted into the side of the old brick building.
The black 1970 Charger slowed as it approached the checkpoint on University Avenue leading into Minnesota's old capital. The barricade's construction composed of an old MTCO bus some cement highway medians and two menacing M-2 Browning machineguns each mounted on top of a military humvee.
The soldiers looked in half disbelief to see the modified black muscle car approach. One soldier wearing sergeant stripes on his arm held his hand up ordering Scott to halt. Scott complied and slowly climbed out, took off his helmet, and tossed it onto the driver's seat. His short brown hair was greasy from days of living in his car. Gray dust covered his black leather jacket and pants. A steel star badge with the words U.S. Scout was pinned to his left side of his chest. On his right hip rested a holstered .357 Magnum revolver
"You the scout sent from out west?" asked the sergeant with incredulity.
"That'd be me," Scott smiled. He remembered getting a similar reaction about two years ago when he reached St Louis, Missouri and five years ago when he entered Austin, Texas.
"The governor and his deputies will be waiting to see you at the capitol. Just follow University Avenue you can't miss it."
"Thanks," Scott smiled as he reentered his car. One of the soldiers drove the bus back to allow Scott to pass. The other three soldiers watched in surprise as the scout passed them.
It was before noon when Scott pulled his Charger up to the Capital building. It took him a couple of minutes to drive around the curved road that led around the structure. When he drove up to the front, Scott parked his car in front of a battered "No Parking" sign. Scott chuckled to himself as a small delegation approached the Charger.
The scout climbed out of the car and waited for the small group to approach. He was happy to breathe fresh air again. However, technically the air in his car's cab was more pure than what he could breathe outdoors. There were still traces of radiation and other pollutants floating around.
"Mr. Malice," a smiling older thin man approached with his hand extended. "We are very glad to see you."
Scott accepted the man's grip and pumped his hand in a firm handshake. "Governor Trimble I presume," Scott replied.
"Yes, and these are my chief advisors," Trimble motioned to the men behind him. "The man in the uniform is Security Chief, Lieutenant Reynolds," the man in military battle dress uniform or BDU nodded. "This is my secretary Mr. Malcolm," Trimble pointed to a young man wearing a suit similar to Trimble's suit. "And finally, my economic advisor, Mr. Mitchell," the governor introduced the short round man that appeared a few years older than Scott did.
"Is Malice your real name?" Reynolds asked after the introduction.
"Does it matter?" Scott replied.
"I suppose it doesn't," Reynolds chuckled to himself.
"Anyway, it is the name that was on my birth certificate before it was consumed in a mushroom cloud that destroyed Seattle," Scott said grimly.
The Governor was escorting the small group back towards the capitol building. Two men wearing army fatigues and shouldering M-16s guarded the entrance. "They got Seattle too," Mitchell said sadly.
"Yep, most of the big cities were nuked. The smaller ones were hit with the plague bombs or chemical weapons and those that escaped all of the above felt the effects of radiation and/or the flu. No one got away unscathed," Scott replied.
"We've been mostly in the dark this last decade," Reynolds offered. "We are isolated from the rest of the United States stuck here in the middle of the Wastes. Hell, the only reason we are still here is because we can get some farming done down by the Mississippi and in the surrounding areas close to the cities."
"How about Washington, D.C?" Malcolm asked.
"It got the trifecta, nuclear, biological and chemical. Portland, Oregon is now the Capitol of the United States. It is the largest city still intact to boot."
"Son of a gun, Oregon," Mitchell pronounced the last syllable of the state's name as ‘gone' instead of the correct ‘gen' with a hard ‘g'. Scott would have thought the economic advisor was mocking him except for the astonishment in Mitchell's voice. Scott let it pass, more than likely it was just a local dialect.
"How'd it start?" Reynolds asked grimly.
"Beats me," Scott shrugged his shoulders. "I was a pizza delivery boy trying to make my way through the Vo-Tech when it all came down."
Scott remembered the day. He was in Missoula, Montana driving a delivery for Domino's Pizza when the emergency air raid sirens started to blare around town. Scott did not even know Missoula had such sirens until that moment. The news on his radio reported that a nuclear explosion occurred in Great Falls. The last piece of news was that Spokane went up in a nuclear fireball. Then that was it. All communication across the country broke down.
Fires burning around the world, from both forests and cities, threw enough debris into the air to block the sun out for months. People came down with a mysterious flu that swept through the cities leaving more dead than alive. Those poor pathetic few who survived the Big Bang now had to endure the cold of a nuclear winter and starvation.
It was a good two years before the first scouts reached Missoula. Portland, Oregon was the new seat of the reemerging U.S. of A. Through the efforts of the scouts, they secured routes all along the western coast, through the southwest and on to the eastern seaboard. The ties reuniting the country were tenuous.
Wasters played havoc through the interior of the nation. They would raid and destroy precious convoys of fuel, food, and medical supplies. Many outfits now traveled in convoys escorted by Light Scouts and heavier defensive vehicles.
Scott had joined up with the U.S. Scouts over five years ago. It is one of the best paying jobs out there. Unfortunately, the life expectancy of a scout was a little over one year; the only job that could arguably be worse was being a salvager, they tended to last only a few months. Scott fit naturally into the role. He personally modified the Charger he now drove, he could automatically calculate his gas mileage in his head, handled his guns as if he was born with them in his hands, and he was a loner by nature.
To many, he was a legend and a hero. Wasters had bounties out for him. Many Scouts tried to copy Scott and few succeeded. He was the best there was and that was the reason why the president personally chose him to open up the route to the Twin Cities.
The popular joke that passed around from city to city was, "What's the best way to stop Global Warming? Answer: A nuclear winter." It seemed that no matter the number of people who had died, or the tragedies witnessed by everyone. Not even the threat of starvation, wasters, or muties could quash man's desire to crack jokes about his predicament. Scott figured as long as people could still joke and laugh they had a fighting chance for survival.
The governor and his advisors sat around a large table in a conference room. Scott Malice was standing in front of the group. He was not much of a public speaker, but he tended to get the job done in his own frank and honest way.
"Gentlemen, St Paul is of utmost importance to the new United States of America. Other than St Louis, no other Midwestern city survived the Big Bang. We desperately need a northern trade route to the east, and St Paul is the key." Scott looked around the room. Until now the men in the room only thought that they needed the U.S. not that the U.S. needed them.
"You have several factors here that make you one of the most important cities not only in the Midwest, but also in the new United States. Obviously, as I said you are one of two surviving cities in the region that will help tie the two coasts of the country together. However, of great importance is the Ford assembling plant you have. We are hoping that the plant and the hydroelectric dam that operate it are still operational." Scott paused to look over at Mr. Mitchell. The plump man nodded his head in an affirmative gesture.
"Good, you also have some factories in the surrounding area that manufactured mid-caliber ammo that we also hope is operational."
"Yes, they are Mr. Malice. In fact, they are being operated now in order to keep our defense forces armed," Mitchell offered.
Scott resumed, "That is excellent. Another major point is the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant and the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant. I'm assuming that because you still have power one or both of them are still functioning."
"Yes sir, we have military outposts manning them. The warlords would love to get their hands on them," Lt. Reynolds replied. "Prairie is about fifty miles southeast of us so we have the logistical advantage over Minneapolis. However, they still occasionally make raids.
"Unfortunately, the Monticello plant is 40 miles northwest of the Twin Cities so the warlords have the advantage there. Our hold there is tenuous; fortunately the warlords tend to fight more amongst themselves than against us."
"Mr. Reynolds," began the scout "neither of those plants can fall into hostile hands. We'll be able to help you clean up Minneapolis as the trade routes become more secure. However, we cannot allow hostiles to control the power."
"Mr. Malice, I appreciate your admiration of our city," replied Mr. Reynolds sincerely. "However, what you ask cannot happen. We do not have the combat vehicles we need to support both outposts and to secure our borders from the wasters and the warlords."
Scott smiled, "Not yet, but you have the means. You've seen my car. Gentlemen, you have to use your imagination. I know you have several fine engineers in the city let them loose, let them modify some of those cars sitting alongside the road into something formidable.
"Modify that Ford plant so that it can fit armor and weapons onto those vehicles. Make those guns and ammo, and then unleash them onto your opponents."
Governor Trimble jumped up from the table. A laugh broke out from his mouth, "By God, you are right. It won't be easy, but for the first time since the Big Bang, I feel that we can start moving forward."
After the meeting, Scott found a nice room in a local hotel to sleep in. How long was it since he slept in a bed? Scott could not remember. There was even hot water another rare commodity, if only they had some soap. Well, you couldn't have everything, Scott reminded himself.
Although, St Paul did not have any of the new currency consisting of gold Sacagawea dollars or silver Eagle half dollars to give Scott for his services they did offer him food and reloads for his guns and gas for his car. He would soon be heading back toward the west to announce his findings to help secure the new trade route. Scott told the governor that in a few weeks another scout should be heading in from the east to help secure the route that way.
It was only a week after his arrival to St Paul that Scott found himself heading back west. Warlords and wasters would be more alert now. The return trip was always the hardest.
Once again, Scott weaved his way through the labyrinthine streets of Minneapolis. The gangs had obviously moved a few things around since Scott's arrival.
Wrecked vehicles now blocked roads that were once open and roads that once obstructed were now clear of obstacles. His guns were primed and Scott was prepared to meet any car, truck, or van that the warlords decided to send against him.
During his week stay, Governor Trimble and his advisors informed Scott about the local warlords. The several small gangs tended to be more interested in small turf wars amongst each other and posed no real threat to St Paul. However, three major warlords had established clear defined territories in Minneapolis.
The largest was the "Killaz"; they controlled the center and were notorious for exacting revenge on anyone who crossed their path. They had a large cache of military grade arms. A smaller but almost as effective group was the "Death Heads" they favored smaller more maneuverable attack groups. They had a dedicated suicide squad made up of bicyclists that could easily make their way through the debris-ridden metropolis. The third and final group was the "Mikaz". The Mikaz, unlike the Death Heads, favored larger vehicles. They owned several large garbage trucks that they had modified so that they could quickly remove barriers to allow the smaller vehicles to pass by any obstacles. These trucks were also most effective in using their hydraulic forks to lift up the backend of vehicles, either tossing them into the back of the truck or upending them.
Scott hoped that the warlords were still more interested in each other than they were in his small armored vehicle. It had been a week since his surprise entrance so it was possible that the warlords had forgotten him. On the other hand, the warlords had a week in which to prepare a trap for him.
The scout wound his way through the debris and obstacles. Scott itched to get back on the open road where he had room to maneuver, and he could bring the Charger up to a faster speed. As it were, Scott felt that he could make better time if he just got out and walked. Of course, the scout would last about as long as that proverbial snowball in Hell if he did leave his vehicle.
Scott was lost in thought and had been to listening to the droning engine when a loud ‘thump' echoed off the passenger door. Scott quickly glanced out his passenger side port to notice that a bicyclist had smacked his rearview mirror as he passed by. From the way the cyclist held his hand, the reward for his action against the reinforced mirror was a broken hand.
Anger exploded inside Scott's head. He took it very personal when someone tried to damage his car. The scout slammed his foot down onto the accelerator and the Charger leaped after the fleeing cyclist. The white skull on the cyclist black hooded sweatshirt and the bike he rode told Scott whom he was dealing with.
The cyclist weaved back and forth and rode the mountain bike over piles of debris with little problem despite a broken left hand. Scott tried to bring his guns to bear but the small target proved too maneuverable. However, the distance between the bike and the car were quickly evaporating. In a matter of seconds, Scott would feel the satisfying crunch of cyclist and bike under the wheels of his vehicle.
Just before the front bumper could touch the bike's rear tire, the Death Head member sharply turned the bike and shot down a small alley before Scott could react to follow.
Cursing to himself Scott fumed shortly about the cyclist before he glanced down to his monitor to see a large green Waste Management truck barreling down on him from behind. Normally Scott would just accelerate away from the large truck. Unfortunately, the obstacles in the road would not allow that. His second choice would be to wheel the Charger around so that he could bring his weapons to bear. But, the roads were too narrow. As it was Scott was doing everything he could to keep the distance from the garbage truck.
Suddenly, the road in front of the Charger exploded, filling the air with chunks of concrete, smoke, and fire.
The chunks of concrete bounced harmlessly off the three-inch thick windshield. The fireball hid from view the road ahead and Scott felt the Charger slam into a large crater. Fortunately, his forward momentum was enough for the car to plow through the crumbled road to resume its flight from the garbage truck. The green truck had no problem driving over the new pothole.
Scott glanced up through his windshield to spy a person on top a blackened brick building aiming a LAW rocket at his car. A shiver went up his spine. The Charger could withstand small arms fire with no damage and could survive medium arms with slight, but a rocket could very well destroy the vehicle. At the last second before the LAW fired, Scott veered his car onto the sidewalk closest to the rocket armed gang member. The rocket flew past the Charger and slammed into the road where the Charger would have been.
Consequently, the exploding projectile was close enough to blow the front right tire off the Waste Management truck. The huge truck suddenly lurched forward and down as the missing wheel flew in the air. The inertia of the huge vehicle flung the rear of the truck into the air, flipping the vehicle down the road.
The large green truck smashed into the street right behind the fleeing Charger. Steel, concrete, and glass exploded into the air. The ‘ping' of small debris ricocheted off the rear armor of the black muscle car.
Scott was about to sigh in relief before he saw a yellow school bus several yards in front of him suddenly pull out and stop blocking the road. Scott knew that even if he punched through the thin metal skin of the bus the heavy steel chassis would ensnare his car. The Charger would suffer entanglement as effectively as if the LAW had blown away his front tires.
There was only one option left to the scout and it was a long shot. Instead, of slowing down Scott punched the accelerator and the Charger responded like the spurred steed it was named after. The black car leapt forward and the engine roared as if in anger.
Scott aimed the vehicle toward an area of the road where the hot summers had buckled the concrete. With any luck, it would give the heavy scout vehicle the lift it needed.
The front tires bounced up on the concrete and the rear tires dug as for a final leap off the natural ramp. The armored muscle car did not exactly fly through the air, but it did attain enough lift to carry it four feet above the ground before it slammed into the side of the bus. The Charger was heavy enough that its momentum carried it through the side of the bus. Scott fought for control as his car smashed through the yellow metal side and through the green chairs inside. The front of the Charger protruded from the opposite side of the bus as the rear tires came down onto the bus's floor. This gave the car one last spurt of speed to carry it the rest of the way through the wrecked bus.
The Charger bounced as it regained its treading on the road past the bus. One last explosion filled the air as a LAW rocket exploded into the side of the bus. More steel and glass rained down onto the armored vehicle causing no more harm than scratching the black paint on the roof of the car.
The rest of the trip was uneventful as Scott finally reached the open road outside of the Twin Cities. He knew he would need to inspect his .50 machine guns for any damage. Even if both guns suffered damage, it would be a small price to pay for his survival. The escape from Minneapolis was one of the worst gauntlets Scott had ever run.
Once the Twin Cities were far behind him, Scott pulled the Charger over at an abandoned rest stop. The neglected buildings where weathered and battered by time and the elements. The roof of one building was missing; either it had been torn off by a tornado or collapsed from heavy snow. Scott did not bother to investigate; he was more concerned with the state of his vehicle.
A scout's car was his life. It was reminiscent of the days of the old west, where if a cowboy's horse turned up lame while out in the desert his chance of survival were seriously diminished. That was a major reason why cars from the sixties and seventies were preferred to newer cars by the scouts. It was paramount to have a car that could survive a lot of punishment.
In the last couple of decades of the twentieth century, automobile manufacturers started making cars that would purposely absorb the damage with crumple zones so that the passengers would survive while the car would not. That was not the case nowadays. If you lost your car in the Wastes, you were lost as well. It was better to die in a good car than to survive a wreck in a ruined car.
Fortune smiled upon Scott once again. By some divine miracle, his .50s had survived without a scratch. Other than scraped paint, the Charger was in tiptop condition. The scout jumped back into his vehicle and proceeded down the old battered highway.
Rest of the trip through Minnesota was relatively uneventful. While crossing into North Dakota, Scott had to take a wide detour around the ruins of Fargo. His Geiger-counter clicked madly indicating that the radiation from the nuked city was still dangerously high.
On the far side of Fargo as the sun was starting to set, the sky suddenly began to turn green. Scott knew the signs of a tornado well enough. The wind started to pick up and a smattering of rain began to fall. He had once seen a noonday turn as black as moonless midnight as green clouds blocked the sunlight before a tornado ripped through the area. He knew he needed to find shelter quickly before he was caught in one of nature's furies.
Scott quickly scanned the horizon for a depression or an overpass where he could hide. All that he saw was smoke blowing up and rapidly dissipating in the rising wind. Scott inwardly groaned at the sight. It went against his better judgment. Hell, it went against the rules of being a Scout. However, Scott still had a conscience, and he needed to investigate the smoke.
Scott accelerated towards the smoke rising from the ground. As the distance closed, the scout noticed the wreckage of some kind of vehicle burning on the side of the road. This could be a trap by wasters to ambush a scout; it had happened so much in the past that the government did not allow scouts to investigate wrecks. However, Scott could not live with himself if did not try to at least help someone who was in need.
Plus, this was highly unlikely to be a trap. What waster would hide in ambush while a tornado was brewing in the Wastes? As the Charger approached the wreckage, Scott recognized that it was a Subaru Outback lying on its side in flames with a smashed camping trailer burning behind it.
Scott pulled the Charger over behind the wreckage. The natural light was rapidly fading and the flickering illumination from the fanning flames revealed the bodies of two adults on the side of the road. Scott ran over to them, but they were now beyond his help. The man and woman thrown from the vehicle left mangled bodies twisted upon the hard packed and uncaring earth.
The scout started to trot back to his car when a muffled noise reached his ears above the rising wind and rain. At first, Scott thought it may be a trick of the wind, but he heard it again. It sounded like a moaning. Not the moaning one heard from a mutie caught in mad fury and agony, but the sound of a person in pain. Scott quickly ran towards the source of the moan.
He was having a hard time locating the source in the little light reaching him from the burning wreckage. The rain pelting him now mercilessly turned the unrelenting ground into a slick surface. The mud sucked his feet into the mire threatening to rip his boots off; fortunately, Scott had securely tied them to his feet.
Scott was about to face the inevitable and leave the poor victim to his or her fate if he could not find him or her. The storm was brewing itself up into a ferocious state and Scott would have to return to his car and find shelter fast.
Then there was one last moan and Scott looked over in the direction it came from. There lying on the ground appeared to be a boy of about ten or eleven his blond hair plastered to his head by the rain. He was unconscious and a quick examination revealed no broken bones. In another time, it was best to leave a victim lay until help arrived. Those days were long gone now.
Scott scooped the boy into his arms and, as quickly as he could in the driving wind and rain on a slick and sticky surface, made his way back to the car. Scott lowered the passenger seat as far back as it would go and laid the boy upon it. Then he quickly jumped into the driver's seat and raced the Charger down the old interstate, hoping to find shelter.
The sky was now completely black; the rain fell upon the vehicle as if it was caught in a waterfall. The wind tried to force the car off the road. Scott turned on the front camera with its low-light amplification. The monitor's black and white image was all Scott had in which to navigate.
Then two things happened almost at the same time. The thump of a small stone fell upon the roof the car and the clicking of the Geiger started to increase. If Scott did not find shelter fast, he would find himself caught in the middle of a radioactive tornado storm.
The clicking rapidly increased and the stones started pelting the car from above regularly. The black and white image on the monitor only revealed empty road ahead. Nonetheless, Scott continued to race down the interstate. He fought for control of the car as the wind and rain slicked highway tried to force him off onto the muddy earth alongside it.
If Scott lost the surface of the battered highway and wound up in some abandoned field, he was as good as dead. The car's massive weight would sink her into the mud. Scott and his passenger would likely be stuck inside, as the car would sink up to the doors. The scout did not worry about wasters apprehending his vehicle because he had a self-destruct or dead man's switch installed. He just had to push the right combination on the toggle switches below the dash and small explosives would detonate on the huge gas tanks. No, that was not his main worry. But, the slow starvation and dehydration inside his steel coffin would be his main concern, because there would not be any chance of rescue out here.
Then an eerie glow began to manifest itself off into the distance outside the windshield. Fluorescent green lightning flashed and illuminated a sickly green funnel cloud, which was streaked with gray debris, was miles ahead on the horizon. The deep rumble of the thunder forced its way over the thumping rocks and the ferociously clicking Geiger-counter. Scott's situation just got even worse.
The funnel raced toward Scott as if it had a single objective and that was to swallow the small car inside its huge and hungry form. The green lightening flashed angrily around the malevolent funnel cloud revealing the debris swirling maddening inside it.
The rocks pounding on the car were starting to become larger as the storm flung boulders in its fury. The stones were now becoming serious obstacles on the rough road. If one of the larger stones hit the Charger there was a great chance of it doing serious damage. Occasionally a stone the size of a man would crash into the road ahead showering the air with smashed concrete.
Sweat beaded on Scott's brow, he cursed under his breath as he fought for control of the car. He needed to find shelter. There was nothing behind him for many miles. A boulder ripped from a distant mountaintop and the size of the vehicle itself plummeted into the side of the road as the Charger passed. The momentum of the huge stone caused it to bounce over the vehicle as the Charger sped down the rain soaked and debris-ridden road. Mud and dirty water splashed against the passenger's side of the car. The unrelenting rain made visibility out the windshield a near impossibility forcing Scott to rely on the black and white imaging on the monitor.
Lightning struck an old withered tree in front of the Charger on the left hand side of the road. The dead tree quickly flashed into flames as it started to tumble onto the old interstate ahead. Scott accelerated even more in order to beat the burning tree before it blocked his path. The Charger started to fishtail yet Scott continued on his race. The black car shot underneath the tree just before it hit the ground. Its burning branches screeched eerily and snapped in protest across the roof. Orange and yellow sparks rained down upon the windshield and the top of the car.
Scott could not relax, for he was still racing the relentless funnel cloud as it continued onward towards the Charger. The malignant green monstrosity was a combination of nature and manmade fury. Though, the Charger would protect its inhabitants from some radiation it would not help if the funnel cloud approached too close. The radiation level would be deadly even behind these steel encased doors.
The scout glanced down at his monitor once more and noticed the object he was looking for. Up ahead lay an overpass. Scott drove towards it attempting to avoid the debris falling around him. He slowed the car down and pulled it to a stop underneath the overpass's concrete protection.
Scott looked out his windshield to monitor the funnel cloud's progress. By a miracle, the funnel cloud changed direction as if it had lost interest in the little black car. The Geiger-counter started to click less incessantly as the radiation started to lower with the storm moving away.
Scott turned off the car and laid the seat back. He wiped his brow and finally let the sigh trapped in his lungs escape. Exhaustion took hold of Scott and he let himself succumb to its embrace.
A muffled sob brought Scott back to consciousness. On the seat next to him was the small boy. He lay curled in a fetus position with his back toward Scott. The boy shook with each sob.
Scott rubbed the sleep from his eyes and noticed that the morning sun had risen behind him from the East. With any luck, he would be back in the restored United States by nightfall or the next morning at the latest.
The scout reached out to the boy and touched him. The boy instantly became aware of his surroundings and jumped back against the door. The fear in his wide tearful eyes told Scott that the lad did not trust him.
"Easy kid, I'm one of the good guys," Scott said with a smile.
The boy just stared at Scott and shook with fear. He sniffed a couple of times, wiped his nose, but he did not respond in any other way.
"Look here, I'm a scout," Scott said as he showed the young boy his steel badge.
The expression on the boy's face instantly changed. Awe and wonder replaced the fear in the boy's eyes.
"No Fooling?" the boy finally said in a small voice. "I heard of you guys. But, I always thought it was just a story."
"Yep, I'm the genuine article," Scott continued with his smile still intact. "So, what is your name? Mine is Scott."
"Well Sam, how about a little breakfast?"
The boy nodded his head. Scott noticed how thin and dirty the boy was. There were not any showers around and he could not afford to waste water on cleaning up Sam. But, he could at least feed the kid. Scott rummaged through his supplies next to the fuel tanks in the backseat and produced an MRE.
"Looks like spaghetti and meatballs," Scott tossed the boy the Meal Ready to Eat package. The boy wasted no time in opening the brown package and devouring the contents.
"When was the last time you had something to eat?" Scott asked as he observed the boy licking the remaining sauce off the packaging.
Sam just continued licking as he shrugged his shoulders. Finally, after he consumed every morsel he began to talk.
"Ma and Pa were traveling from our old home in Wyndmere to find a new one somewhere else. We were low on food and Pa heard that one of the other towns may have some to spare. Sis and I hadn't had anything to eat in a couple of days and for Ma and Pa it was longer."
Suddenly, Sam stopped speaking and began to cry as the memory of his ordeal replayed itself in his memory. "We…we were attacked by wasters. They shot up the car real bad and Pa crashed," Sam choked out between sobs. "We were all thrown out of the car in the wreck. Ma and Pa didn't move and looked real bad. I heard the motorcycles coming so I…I crawled out into the field to hide. I noticed Mary, that's my sister, getting up.
"I was going to tell her to hide too, but the wasters saw her and grabbed her. All I did was hide. I should have done something but I didn't know what to do. By that time I lay down on the ground and I don't remember anything else."
"You took a nasty spill. I found you just before a radioactive storm hit."
Sam's eyes nearly bugged out of his head hearing this. Everyone knew that exposure to a radioactive storms turned people and animals into muties. Hair would fall out of the body from the severe radiation sickness. Skin would blacken and crack from the radiation cooking it. Open, bloody sores would instantly cover the body and the mind would become twisted in a mixture of madness and pain. Muties tended to live short but violent lives. They would wail and moan in torment and any living thing crossing their paths would be the focus of their fury. If a pack of muties did not finish you off, their radiation would either kill you or turn you into a mutie as well.
Sam looked down at his feet thinking. Scott did not disturb the boy. Instead, he took the time to eat an MRE himself. Scott was nearly finished with his breakfast when the boy looked over at him.
"Mister, I know Ma and Pa didn't make it, but do you think you could help me find Mary?"
Scott nearly choked at he boy's request. "I wouldn't know where to begin, kid."
"They took her to Sturgis. That's their main camp, and they sell everyone they capture in the Wastes there as slaves."
"Sturgis? Sturgis, South Dakota? Look here kid I'm on an important mission and I need to get back to Montana. I can't go down to the Black Hills."
Sam began to open his door. "Fine, I'll go myself!" he shouted as he began to climb out.
Scott reached over and pulled Sam back into the car. "Ok, kid. It is against my better judgment and it will probably land me in hot water back at HQ. But, I will help you find your sister."
The Geiger began to click again. "Sam shut the door looks like there are some muties heading our way."
Before Sam could slam the door shut, Scott already had the Charger started and heading down the ravaged road.
"How did you survive in Wyndmere?" Scott asked the young boy.
"We still had some areas that weren't completely blown away. We could grow some crops and the water wasn't bad either," Sam replied distantly looking out the windshield.
"I guess I never made it to your neck of the woods. I just assumed all of the land was blasted and blown like here."
"Most of it is. That is why it is important that we grow what food we could. The wasters wouldn't bother us if we gave them some of our food."
"I never thought of that. I guess that explains why the wasters survive so well up here. Normally the parasites like to live in warmer climes and just raid the communities that survived the Big Bang."
"Pa said they used to do that, but many people started to leave or were killed so raiding wasn't so good anymore. Then the wasters made many people move to the towns and start to farm. As long as we had food to give them, they wouldn't bother us. But, if we didn't they would sell everyone off into slavery."
"Is that why your family left? Because the crops failed," Scott continued.
"Yes, but the wasters don't allow people to leave towns. Pa was hoping to find a new home somewhere else without the wasters noticing. Other people have done it," Sam became quiet and withdrawn after this. Scott knew that the wounds of losing his family were still too fresh. Even in a time when losing loved ones was common it did not lessen the pain.
"So you ever hear of the ‘land piranha's'?" Scott asked changing the topic as he drove southwardly down the rough road formerly known as Highway 8 towards South Dakota.
"Yeah, I heard of them. But, I never seen them. Aren't they a bunch of squirrels?" the boy responded.
"You're close they are actually roving packs of Chihuahuas," Scott glanced over at Sam noticing the question in his eyes. "Small dogs, they were annoying before the Big Bang. Now they are deadly. I don't know what, but something changed them. So now, down in Mexico and Arizona you have these packs of dogs…packs of over a hundred little mean dogs that can devour a buffalo in a matter of sixty seconds."
"Yeah right, mister," Sam snorted in disbelief.
"No really, I've seen it myself. Hell, I didn't even believe in muties until I saw one myself and you know they are real."
Sam nodded in agreement.
Ping! Ping! Ping!
Scott shot a glance at his monitor. Following behind the Charger was a two-person dune buggy. The driver was accelerating and weaving the light vehicle through the wreckage on the road. The passenger was firing a .30 machinegun mounted in front of him. Fortunately, the ammo was still of a small enough caliber that as long as it hit the armor the Charger would be fine.
Nonetheless, a lucky shot from the automatic weapon could still seriously damage the scout's vehicle. Scott was not about to let that happen. He stomped on the accelerator and the Charger surged forward on the torn-up highway as the M-60 chewed up the concrete behind the car.
Sam's face paled, his last run in with the wasters had left his parents dead and his sister abducted. The young boy gripped the dash with white knuckles. His jaw clenched tight in fear.
The scout started to weave the car back and forth in hopes of throwing off the pursuers' aim. However, the buggy was a much more maneuverable vehicle and could easily keep up. An occasional ping off the armor audibly reminded Scott of that fact.
Scott also knew that trying to turn the Charger around to face the buggy would be futile. The buggy could easily stay on the muscle car's tail and fire away at its rear armor. Alternatively, the buggy could just also drive off road with ease and snipe at the Charger's side. No, Scott's plan of attack would need to rely on something in the Charger's favor. In this case, the scout figured it would have to be its weight.
Scott started to aim for debris and wreckage on the battered road that he could plow through that might ensnare the buggy. Unfortunately, what large obstacles Scott encountered would just explode or fly away once the Charger smashed into it. The net result was that Scott was actually clearing a path for the buggy that was still firing burst after burst at the car.
The scout desperately searched for something that would work in his favor. So far, the buggy had the advantage. The only redeeming thing was that the gunner still had not been able to get that lucky hit to incapacitate the Charger. Thank God, the buggy did not have an M-2 or a grenade launcher or the battle would already be over
Sweat was starting to stream into Scott's eyes; he wiped his brow with his left arm while wildly cranking the steering wheel left and right. Scott scanned the horizon for anything that might work to his advantage. Then he saw it, an old off-ramp leading to some small dead town.
The Charger was easily doing 120 miles per hour with the buggy keeping pace. The engine on the light off-road vehicle was definitely not stock. The horsepower on the small block engine may just be too much for the dune buggy Scott figured.
At the last minute, just before passing it Scott quickly cranked the wheel hard to right. The Charger barely managed to make it onto the off-ramp. Caught off guard the driver on the buggy tried to correct his mistake in anticipating the scout's move. Unfortunately, the buggy was a second too late in matching the Charger in reaction. As a result, the fast but light vehicle caught the left embankment of the off-ramp flipping the buggy into the air.
Scott watched in amazement as the buggy corkscrewed in the air towards the Charger. Just before the unguided projectile hit the muscle car, Scott made a hard right turn onto an intersecting road. The buggy instead plowed into the ground and now started to flip end over end down the off-ramp kicking up a cloud of loose concrete and smoke. The buggy finally came to rest as it slammed into the wooden front of an old store.
The scout slowed down his Charger and started to head back towards the wreckage of the dilapidated building that was now billowing smoke. Sam looked over at the driver and began to pant. He was now just remembering to breathe again.
"What are you doing?" the young boy asked between breaths.
"If we are lucky I think I found our ticket into Sturgis."
Scott removed wooden plank after plank. The buggy had done a great job of burying itself inside the partially collapsed building. After a few minutes of hard work, Scott finally reached the buggy. The vehicle laid upside-down half immersed in rubble; the occupants were bloody and torn remnants of human beings. The scout cursed to himself as he did a quick survey.
For the most part the buggy was still intact. The engine was relatively undamaged, just a thrown belt and some loose hoses. The frame was a little twisted and a few of the welds on the roll-cage were broken. Scott could fix these minor things in a day or two with the proper tools. However, the rear axle was broken and the driver's side rear wheel had completely broken off.
Time was not a factor on their side if Scott hoped to get to Sturgis in time to save Mary. It would take just a few days alone to repair the axle and replace the wheel by himself. Again, that was if Scott had the proper tools, which Scott did not. There was always the small chance that some tools remained in a garage or gas station. However, that was unlikely for the wasters immediately would have looted the town for such equipment.
The scout had really been hoping to use the buggy to get into Sturgis. Going in with the Charger would have been suicide. It was clearly a scout vehicle and though it was better armed and armored than the wasters, the gang of thugs could easily overwhelm Scott with their sheer numbers.
Sam reached out and placed a hand on Scott's shoulder bringing the scout out of his musings. Scott looked over at Sam with a reassuring smile. Scott hoped that he could project some hope into the boy. Sam's face suddenly took on a look of horror. Scott twisted his head in the direction of whatever was scaring Sam.
Six large men with long beards and assault rifles aimed at the pair were standing in the open wall. They looked like hillbillies with their unkempt beards, dirty overalls, and menacing looks. The only thing out of place was the fact that they carried M-16s and AK-47s instead of muzzle loading rifles.
"What do we have here, Brent?" asked one of the men.
"I'd say we found ourselves some lost souls," replied the man supposedly called Brent.
"One of ‘em looks like a scout," said the first.
Brent sniffed and looked coolly at Scott. "Well, I guess we better take care of them."
Scott was about to launch himself into a suicide leap at the one he perceived to be Brent and therefore the leader when he heard him say:
"How can we help you boys?"
Scott blinked his eyes and his mouth dropped in surprise. This was the last thing he expected to hear.
Brent broke into a loud laugh that instantly infected the other five men. "Who'd you think we were, wasters?"
Scott relaxed and started to laugh himself. By some divine luck, he stumbled upon some friendly people.
Brent held out his hand and grabbed Scott's in strong firm handshake. The big man continued to talk as he nearly pumped Scott's arm out of his socket. "We're Anderson Brother's Salvage. Finding a scout out here was the last thing we expected to find."
Scott relayed his story about opening a path to the Twin Cities and that now his quest was to help Sam rescue his sister. The six men eagerly agreed to help the scout fix up the buggy and offered to hide the Charger in a nearby Post Office.
What would have taken Scott a matter of days or a week by himself they accomplished in only few hours. The six Salvagers had all the necessary tools packed in the back of the two full ton pickup trucks that they used for their scavenging. Soon the buggy was nearly as good as new. They even painted the buggy with a gray primer to help disguise it. Scott transferred some .30 ammo to reload the almost empty M-60 and then placed his .30-06 hunting rifle in the back of the buggy.
"Yeah, it would not do you any good to walk into the Anarchist's camp with one of their patrol buggies," Brent said while they ate a light dinner.
Scott looked at Brent questioningly, "Anarchist?"
"Yep, that's the name of the wasters who run this part of the area. A dangerous lot they are. We saw that buggy drive by on patrol yesterday. With the storm last night, it is possible that the Anarchists will think it was lost. Plus, with that patrol out of commission we can extend our salvage operation another day before the Anarchist send out a search party."
"What are Salvagers?" Sam enquired of the large man.
"We are. That is to say, that is how we make our living. With the world gone to pot a few of us more adventurous entrepreneurs will scavenge the Wastes looking for things they can use back in the U.S."
"But you guys have factories, right?" the boy asked.
"Sure we do. But, production still isn't what it was and the demand outstrips supply. This makes many things very expensive. We are able to help with the supply by salvaging things out here and selling them back in the States at a slightly less cost than a new one from a factory. There are big profits to be had out there if you are willing to take the risks.
"Anderson Brothers Salvage is the most successful salvaging operation out there. We use our wits and avoid the wasters as much as we can. Part of that is to study and know who those wasters are."
"Why are you hiding Scott's car in a Post Office?" Sam asked taking on a new line of thought.
Brent laughed, "Easy there isn't anything in those Post Offices that a waster would want so it's the perfect hiding place. Now it's my turn to ask a question," Brent turned his attention to Scott. "When do you expect to take off?"
"Right after we finish eating," Scott replied.
"Then you better take this," Brent tossed Scott a dirty, faded, and worn denim jacket that said, ‘Anderson's Garage' on the back. "Wouldn't do to have you walk into Sturgis looking like a scout would it?"
The engine of the buggy purred as Scott prepared to drive out of the ghost town. Brent leaned over the driver's side.
"Look, I can take the kid back with us over the border."
Scott smiled and replied, "I don't think he'd go. Plus, I'm going to need him to I.D. his sister."
Brent slapped the roll cage and laughed, "Good luck to you."
Scott pulled the buggy back onto the pothole filled highway. The ride tended to be smoother as Scott was able to maneuver around debris better than he could in the Charger. Still Scott would have preferred the muscle car's thick skin to the smooth ride of the buggy.
As the buggy drove down the highway, Scott noticed that Sam sat hunched over working on something. "What are you doing there kiddo?" Scott asked.
Sam just shrugged his shoulders and responded in a small voice, "Nothing."
Scott returned his attention to driving. Sam was probably just thinking over his recent tragedies again and would like to spend some time alone. There was still a couple of hours of sun Scott figured.
Scott noticed that the wasteland was slowly giving way to grass. Here and there, clumps of tall yellow grass waved in the wind. More commonly however was the scrub grass that tenaciously clung low to the ground. Life was slowly returning to the blasted hard-packed wasteland.
The sun was starting to dip below the hills on the horizon and Scott figured it would be best if he found a place to set up camp. The boy and he could sleep under the stars. Everything would more than likely be all right as long as Scott kept his .30-06 rifle and his .357 Magnum ready.
The scout pulled the buggy off the road and parked it behind an old dilapidated barn at the base of low hill. Scott and Sam grabbed some blankets and a couple MREs. With the sun starting set and the barn between them and the old highway Scott figured it was safe enough to risk a small fire.
The two were comfortably eating their evening meal beside the low fire when Sam twisted his head toward the hill.
"Did you hear that?" the boy asked in surprise.
"Sorry, I guess you ears are better than mine. It is probably nothing," Scott replied before shoving another spoonful of mashed potatoes into his mouth.
Sam looked again towards the hill. This time Scott too thought he heard a low wail. The scout really wished he had his Charger now; the Geiger-counter would really help as an early warning against muties.
Scott picked up the hunting rifle and scrambled up the hill in the receding daylight. When he reached the top, he fell to his stomach and put the rifle to his cheek. The scout peered through the scope and surveyed in the direction he figured the wail came from.
It was not hard to locate the source of the noise. The only feature in the bleak landscape was an old twisted high-tension power tower. Near the top on the steel crossbars was a man; below him was a party of five humans furiously beating against the tower. The inhuman wails emanating from the people at the base left no doubt that Scott was looking at some muties.
"Damn," Scott cursed under his breath. Muties did not have to kill you by tearing you apart their radiation soaked bodies could do it if they got too close. If the man at the top had been quick enough, he may have put enough distance between himself and the muties to forestall him sharing their fate.
Scott prepared to fire on the first mutie when he cursed again a little louder.
"What is it?" Sam asked. Scott had forgotten about the boy who now sat next to him straining his young eyes to make out the forms near the tower.
"It's muties. They have a man trapped in that tower and if I shoot them, they will die near the base and the man will still be stuck up on top the tower. I don't think that man has weeks for the muties to decompose and the radiation to dissipate," Scott replied never taking his eyes off his target.
To make matters worse the sun was nearly behind the hills and Scott would lose his target once the light faded completely. Scott figured maybe he could fire the rifle and the muties may come towards him. It was definitely very unlikely, muties did not respond to firearms. They only tended to care about venting their insane rage on the living.
Scott took closer aim and was about to send a shot past the first mutie when suddenly the mutie turned towards the scout. Surprise stunned Scott for there was no way the mutie could know he was there. Scott had been silent and it was impossible for the mutie to see Scott unaided on top of the hill.
Then surprisingly the mutie let out a mournful wail and started towards the hill. His four irradiated companions also turned toward the hill and started to shamble towards it. The pain and rage filled cries sent a shiver through Scott's spine. The form of what had once been a man but now resembled a hotdog overcooked on the campfire made Scott's hair stand on end. The mutie had charred black skin; that cracked revealing the red and pink tender flesh underneath. He had pustules and blisters, which burst releasing its pent-up blood and pus all over his body. A milky film covered the mutie's left eye, but the rage and pain manifested itself in the right. As the abomination exhaled another wail between his blackened and cracked lips, two teeth bubbled out with bloody foam from his ruined mouth.
Then he heard it. Above the wails, Scott heard the noise of a boy yelling. Jumping to his feet Scott saw Sam at the base of the hill running towards the muties screaming to grab their attention. Without further thought, Scott brought the rifle to his shoulder and peered through the scope.
Sam was keeping his distance and drawing the monsters toward him. Scott did not know whether to be happy or angry with the lad. That was something to he would deal with later.
The blast of the .30-06 shattered the twilight. The first mutie's head exploded, the body stopped and stood still for a fraction of a second before it toppled backwards. Without missing a beat, Scott smoothly worked the rifle's bolt to eject the spent shell while it simultaneously chambered another cartridge. Within half a minute five radiated corpses littered the field between the hill and the tower.
The man in the tower worked his way back to earth and took a wide path around the corpses. He wore some faded denim jeans and a flannel coat that was patched in many places. His boots were worn and dusty. He met up with Sam and the two of them marched up the hill.
The stocky man was panting by the time he and the boy reached its top. The man's face burned dark by the relentless sun; his black hair matched the thick mustache on his round face. Scott was still fighting internally whether to rebuke or reward the boy and he was surprised when the stranger stuck out his hand.
"That was mighty fine shooting. I want to thank you and your son for saving me," the man said. Scott looked at Sam and the boy winked at the scout. "My name is Wade Benson. I was on my way back to Sturgis when my bike broke down. Those damn muties had me treed.
"Anyway, thanks. Your son says you are on your way to Sturgis to sign-up with the Anarchists."
"So what brings you guys to Sturgis?" Wade inquired.
"The boy and I were put out of business working for the Reavers in Kansas when the scouts established the route to St. Louis," Scott replied as he sped the buggy down the old highway. Scott lashed Wade's bike to the back of the buggy. Sam sat in the small compartment between the seats and the roll bars that were perched in front of the rear mounted engine.
"Yeah, things aren't going to be the same. Scouts have been establishing routes all over the country. Soon it'll be like it was in the old days," Wade sighed. "There won't be any room for people like us anymore."
Scott just grunted noncommittally.
"You know, the old days weren't so bad. I miss watching TV or just having a Big Mac whenever I wanted," Wade continued to muse aloud.
"Do you know what I was before the Big Bang?"
Scott shook his head. The question was rhetorical for Wade soon provided the answer himself.
"I was freaking unemployed. Sure, I had the occasional odd job. But I never found something I really liked.
"Then one day the world explodes, it seems like everyone was dying off except for me. After the long winter and the initial chaos, I found my niche. I was good at surviving."
Wade suddenly broke into a long laugh, "Not like this is really surviving. I mean we are parasites living off the labors of the oppressed. But it is better than being one of the oppressed, right bro?"
Scott sat in silence for a couple of seconds as the rubble-strewn road passed under the buggy.
"Why don't you go to the other side?" Scott finally asked.
"I hear they put you in a work camp for a year somewhere on the coast before you can become a citizen. How is that better than being one of those slaves I was talking about?"
"You eventually get your freedom," Scott replied.
Wade nodded his head in silence.
"You know it is going to take more than rescuing me to get into the ranks of the Anarchists," Wade changed conversation tracks.
Scott stared out on the highway occasionally twisting the buggy around some large debris or rock that jutted from the surface of the crumbled concrete.
"Well, I guess I'll just have to present my references. I really haven't had time to get my resume in order."
Wade broke out in a genuine laugh that rocked his stocky frame. "Well, you can count me in for one of those references. Not that it'll do you any good. I have a tendency to spout my mouth off, voicing my opinions when I should keep my trap shut. You may have noticed that. I can't say I'm the most popular man in the group. But I'm still useful otherwise I'd have been a slave or dead long ago."
The sun was nearing its zenith when Scott noticed small-inhabited communities dotting amongst the hills. Men, women, and children worked in the fields wearing nothing more than rags and hacking at the ground with crude farm implements. Occasionally, a lone man with a rifle stood by overseeing the farming. As the buggy passed, everyone would momentarily stop and watch it as it sped down crumbled road.
Wade muttered under his breath. His face darkened as he looked upon the fields. "Still better than being one of those poor bastards," Scott barely heard Wade mutter over the hum of the engine.
"Up ahead is Fort Meade, just drive casually and don't get itchy. There'll send out a couple of escorts," Wade warned.
Soon a couple of motorcycles pulled up beside the buggy as they drove past the old Fort Meade Veterans Hospital. Wade quickly broke into a smile and waved at the men in hopes that they would decide not to open fire.
"You'd do well to let these men escort us to the gate. Sturgis should be only a few miles up the road," Wade offered.
The motorcyclists broke up their formation letting one lead in front of the buggy and the other trailing behind. Wade was good to his word for soon the small party approached a battered town. There were guards standing in front of a chain-linked gate that separated the town from the grasslands without.
The motorcyclists pulled behind the buggy as Scott brought the small vehicle to a stop in front of the gate. One of the guards dressed in a mishmash of clothing approached with an M-16 on his shoulder.
"Wade, good to see you," the guard said. "I see you brought some friends."
"Well, my bike broke down some ways back and these gents were kind enough to save me from some muties as well as give me a lift home."
"Where do you hail from?" the guard asked Scott.
"We used to belong to the Reavers down in Kansas until our operation was ended by those damned scouts. I heard there was some work for my type up here so I grabbed the boy and headed north."
"Hmmm," the guard nodded. "Not many Reavers survived that I hear. You're the first I've seen. But we have strict rules. I can't let you in. You'll have to work the fields for a time."
"Oh, come on Joe," Wade smiled, "the man's good. I swear by it. I've seen him take out five muties in rapid secession. We could really use him."
The guard stroked his stubbled chin. "I'm sorry Wade, you know the boss. I need more proof than his and your word."
Scott's stomach started to churn. Things could not get much worse he figured.
"If you need proof," Sam shot up from the back of the buggy. "How about this?"
The guard's jaw dropped and his eyes nearly popped out of his head. Wade muttered a small curse and Scott's stomach churned even worse as Sam presented in his outstretched hand, Scott's Scout badge to the guard. Scott was wrong -- things could get worse.
Scott watched as if in slow motion the guard start to bring his assault rifle to bear on the scout. He knew he could not hope to pull his .357 Magnum from his holster in time. Not to mention killing the two guards, Wade, and the motorcyclists. They were in dire straits.
"My dad shot one of those bastards down in Wichita. He gave me this as a souvenir," Sam said to the guard.
Scott now noticed that his once shiny steel badge was now worn and dirty. He realized now what it was the boy had been working on when they first set out in the buggy.
The guard's face nearly split as he whispered, "Holy sh..."
"Damn, you are one useful S.O.B." Wade laughed.
"Now Joe you have to let him in," Wade continued. "Good against muties and U.S. Scouts that is something you don't find everyday."
The guard caught in a moment of indecision blurted, "How do we know he's not a scout?"
Wade broke into his infectious laugh again, "Are you kidding? It would be suicide for a scout to march in here. Plus, a scout would have no reason to save my sorry butt."
"I suppose you are right. OK, you may enter, but he's your responsibility Wade. Anything, and I mean *anything funny* happens and it is on your head.
"You better to take him to Taylor. He'll decide whether to sign him up or not."
The guard returned to the gate and pulled it open. Scott restarted the buggy and pulled it into the battered town.
Wade acted as navigator as Scott attempted to negotiate the broken roads. The town that once housed over 6,000 people before the Big Bang now was a former shadow of itself. Since that fateful day over a decade ago, it had fallen into decay. Several wooden structures had burned down, and some brick buildings had collapsed. However, it was evident that some urban renewal was taking place. The roads were clear and those buildings that had withstood the test of time were in good repair.
After a few minutes of driving, Wade had Scott pull the buggy into a parking lot on the north side of town. The lot belonged to an old warehouse that sported several rough looking guards. Scott noticed many motorcycles, buggies, and various automobiles parked in the lot.
Wade climbed out of the buggy after the engine died and stretched his thick limbs. Sam scampered out of his cramped area and seemed no worse for wear as he scanned the surrounding area in awe. Scott walked over to Wade patting some of the road dust off his faded denim jacket and leather pants.
Wade smiled as Scott neared, "This is where Taylor will be found. I have to warn you of a couple of things first. One is that Taylor is second in command; Moose Van Dyke is the real leader here. But Taylor is in charge of recruiting so try not to ruffle his feathers. Secondly, you may want to leave the boy near the buggy. This building is a slave pen. I don't think your son will want to see what happens inside.'
Scott thought about it for a second, "No, Sam comes along. I want him with me until...I'm more comfortable with our situation."
Wade chuckled, "Fair enough."
The trio walked across the broken asphalt toward the large building. There were loading docks off to one side and a doublewide door off to the other. Two burley guards, who resembled Hells Angels, stood in front of them with their M-16s at the ready.
"What's up Wade?" one of the large men grunted.
"I've brought a recruit for Taylor," Wade smiled.
"It may be a little while before you can see him. The auction is about to begin."
"That's fine, maybe I'll find something I like," Wade laughed.
"Yeah right," sneered the other guard. "You never bid on anything. Some folks say you don't like slaves."
"Well, that's my problem," Wade said instantly going from jovial to gruff. "Nothing says I have to like it and nothing says I have to own any."
"As long as it remains nothing," warned the first guard. "You and your friends may enter."
The interior was dank and dusty. The only light came from torches and lanterns situated inside. There were some pens made of chain link fencing at the back of the warehouse. In front of the pens was a large stage where a man stood describing the bidding rules in a loud voice to the audience of over hundred people between Scott and the stage.
Scott sucked inwardly as he noticed the people in the pens. The pens appeared to separate the slaves by age and sex. All wore only a sheet or robe. The gaunt faces looked forlornly out from behind the metal barrier.
"Today we have three beauties up for bid," the auctioneer bellowed from the stage. Scott was not paying too close attention he was busy scanning the cage containing a small group of girls running in ages from about five to eighteen. He was about to nudge Sam if to see if he recognized any of them when he felt a tug on his arm.
Scott looked around and noticed Sam. His face was red with rage and he was staring at the stage. "It's Mary," he hissed between clenched teeth.
Scott followed Sam's gaze up to the platform where the auctioneer was standing. The man was holding the sheet that once covered the young woman who stood next to him. She had to be in her early twenties, but the resemblance to Sam was almost uncanny. The beautiful nude woman stood there in front of the crowd shivering in shame and fright.
"This lady here will make a good maid," the auctioneer bellowed. "She is young, strong and healthy."
The auctioneer forced Mary to turn completely around for the audience. Her long black hair swirled in the air as she turned. "I am sure I do not need to describe her other qualifications," the auctioneer laughed. "I shall now begin the bidding at five rounds or one can."
Wade leaned over to Scott and whispered lowly in his ear, "Money's no good now days, so everything's price is determined by bullets or food. Rifle cartridges and human canned goods are the highest form of currency. Pistol rounds and pet food are lower. One can of human food equal five rounds of rifle ammunition."
"I bid five rounds," one man yelled.
"I have five rounds here," hollered the auctioneer.
"Two cans and five rounds," another countered.
"Those better be two cans of human not pet like you did last time, Burke," warned the auctioneer.
"Two cans human, and five rounds rifle," the man named Burke clarified.
"Twenty rounds," a third man offered.
"I have twenty rounds for this beauty. Are there any other takers?" the auctioneer worked the crowd.
"Four cans and five rounds," the first man shouted to regain the bid.
"Six cans," a big man sitting at a table near the stage bellowed before the auctioneer could acknowledge the previous bid. The crowd hushed. Scott figured that this was a rather large bid.
"I have six cans, do I have any other offers?" the auctioneer asked. The crowd remained mute.
"Will anyone give me six cans, five rounds?" the auctioneer queried the crowd.
"It is too early in the auction for me to blow money like that," a man yelled to the auctioneer. Many of his fellows nodded their heads in agreement.
"Very well, six cans going once...going twice...sold for six cans," the auctioneer concluded by draping the sheet back onto Mary's shoulders before she was escorted off the stage.
Scott marked the man who had purchased Mary before giving Sam a reassuring squeeze. Wade stared ahead towards the stage. Scott thought he heard a low throaty groan come from the stocky man.
After two and half hours of bidding, the auctioneer sold the myriad of slaves. Many of the young strong men were to be field workers, as were some of the more stout females. Most of the women however were termed 'maids' and were sold obviously to add to one's harem or as breeding stock.
What sickened Scott the most was that some of the young boys were sold to become eunuchs to serve as personal guards as they matured. He did not want to dwell on what would happen to the young girls. Scott felt an unbridled rage building in his gut. It took all of his effort to force it back down deep inside of him.
"I guess it is time to introduce you to Taylor," Wade said with a little remorse in his voice.
Scott nodded and gripped Sam's hand tightly as Wade led them forward. Scott did not want to risk losing his grip on the boy for the fear of becoming separated from him. If that happened, one of these people could mistake him for a slave.
The crowd of bidders stood around talking to each other in small groups as Wade made his way through the throng. Finally, the three made their way to the base of the raised stage where there was the table Scott noticed earlier. A small lamp burned on its surface giving off scant light. A group of four men was in deep conversation on the other side of the table when Wade approached.
Wade cleared his voice and the four men turned towards him.
"Mr. Taylor I have found a man interested in becoming one of the Anarchists," Wade continued.
Scott stepped forward and tried to make out the faces of the men in the dim light. It was difficult to see in the deep shadows.
"Very well," one of the men replied as he stepped closer to the table. "What are his qualifications?"
"He's a former member of the Reavers down in Kansas, he saved my life last night when my bike broke down on patrol, and he has personally killed a United States Scout," Wade replied.
"Wade, I need more proof than that. I am sure he saved your life, but how do I know he isn't lying about the other two?" the shadowed man named Taylor asked.
"I figure lying is a quality you would appreciate," Scott interrupted Wade. The once boisterous crowd silenced and turned their attention to the exchange between Scott and Taylor. Taylor took a step back, obvious surprised by Scott's response. Before Wade could remind Scott not to ruffle Taylor's feathers Scott added, "I cannot prove my first claim however I can the last." Scott tossed the worn steel badge at Taylor.
The dark man grabbed the badge in midair and studied it. Everyone was now paying attention to the two men. Low whispers broke out from the crowd as Taylor weighed the evidence presented to him.
"Son, I like the way you do business. Welcome aboard," Taylor said as he shot his hand out. Scott grabbed his hand and pumped it in a firm handshake.
Taylor bent forward and the light from the table revealed his broad grinning face, "I think we are going to get along just fine."
Scott hid his surprise as he stared into the smiling face of the man who had just purchased Sam's older sister.
"Wade, I need to talk to..." Taylor paused.
"Scott Duncan" Scott replied.
"Yes, thank you Mr. Duncan. Wade I need to check Mr. Duncan's credentials myself. You may want to show the man's son where they will be bunking and give him a tour of the town while we consult on some business."
Sam shot a frightened look up to Scott. "Don't worry son, I'll take good care of you," Wade reassured the boy.
Scott looked into Wade's eyes and then he looked down at Sam, "It'll be OK, Sam." Scott looked back into Wade's eyes sternly warning him that it better be OK.
"Nothing to worry about, I owe you my life," Wade laughed.
Scott watched as Sam and Wade disappeared in the crowd as Taylor relayed some last minute instructions to a subordinate.
"Take my acquisition to my chambers; I'll be there later tonight." The subordinate bowed and left the two men alone.
"Well, Mr. Duncan I need to see if you are indeed Anarchist material," Taylor finally said as the two men started to exit the warehouse. He led Scott a few blocks past the warehouse to an old abandoned strip mall. In the parking lot, in front of a brick wall -- riveted with bullet holes -- stood some woodened cutouts in the shape of people. There were various lines painted on the concrete at regular intervals from the targets.
Taylor stopped Scott a few yards from the farthest line before the target and motioned towards the shooting range. "You may show me your stuff."
"Will this be on your dime or mine?" Scott asked the recruiter as he hefted his .357.
"Well, I don't expect you to come loaded for bear, especially if you just made your way north through the Wastes. Here take mine," Taylor said holding out a black Colt M1911-A1.
Scott smiled and took the automatic pistol, he ejected and checked the clip and when satisfied slapped it back into the handle. Scott pulled back the slide chambering a round.
Taylor stepped back and waved a hand towards the wooden targets. "You can fire from any one of those lines..."
Before Taylor could finish speaking Scott fired off the entire seven round magazine in quick succession at the targets from where he originally stopped. The gunfire ripped through the air with a deafening blast. Smoke and the smell of exhausted gunpowder emanated from the spent pistol. The brass shells fell to the ground with a light tinking noise.
Scott looked over at Taylor. The big man smiled smugly back. "You know you may have wanted to get a little closer. You are about 75 yards from the targets. I doubt you could have hit anything from there."
Scott just shrugged his shoulders and returned the pistol to Taylor handle first. Taylor accepted the automatic and then marched up to the targets as Scott started collecting the spent shells. It was common practice to pick up any loose brass shells. Finding bullets and reloading rounds were two different things. After the Big Bang, almost everyone knew how to reload rounds because the likelihood of one finding the right caliber round for one's weapon was remote at best.
After Scott finished he walked up to Taylor who was standing in front of the targets. He was shaking his head and speaking to himself in a low voice.
"Impossible," was all Scott heard as he stood next to Taylor.
"Well, did I pass?" Scott asked.
Taylor shook his head to bring himself back to the present. He looked a Scott in amazement and then pointed towards the targets. "You hit every one of them."
Scott smiled and looked at the seven targets he shot at. Just as he knew, every target had a bullet hole where their hearts would have been if they were living human beings. Scott shoved the casings into Taylor's hand.
"I think it is about time you meet Moose," Taylor said with obvious awe in his voice.
Taylor then led Scott to an old retail building that belonged to the vacant mall. The door swung open with ease and Scott was ushered into the middle of the store. What little light penetrated the interior issued from the glass doors they had just entered. Scott peered around the old store. Old mannequins were scattered about the store casting eerie shadows. Empty clothing racks and boxes littered the interior.
"You stay here, I will get Moose," Taylor said before he marched away into the darkness. Scott heard him open a door and then close it behind him.
Scott stood where he was for a few minutes. The naked mannequins were his only companions. The store was silent and still. Scott did not know how long he was supposed to wait there in the middle of the store alone. He was about to go and try to find Taylor when he thought he heard a noise.
At first Scott thought, maybe it was Taylor returning. However, the big man did not materialize. Then Scott thought he noticed movement. Maybe it was the trick the light, for he was sure he saw one of the mannequins move. Then he felt a presence approaching behind him.
Scott's instincts took over. He swung behind him with his elbow to be rewarded with a man exhaling violently as he struck home in his assailant's stomach. As the man doubled over, Scott grabbed him around the neck and flung the man into some wooden crates. The man crashed into the boxes breaking the brittle wooden boards.
The Scout recovered in time to catch another man armed with a knife running towards him. Scott latched onto the upraised arm with the weapon and as the man continued his forward rush, Scott used this man's own momentum to flip the man onto the ground. With the wind knocked out of him the attacker just laid on the ground momentarily stunned.
Scott easily wrenched the knife out of the second man's hand. He backed up as still another man materialized out of the shadows and swung a long metal bar at Scott. The bar passed in front of Scott barely touching his denim jacket as Scott hopped back out of range.
The new attacker stepped in for another swing when with lightning reflexes Scott ran towards the man and before the attacker could ready his bar again the Scout was behind him with the knife to his throat. The assailant dropped the metal bar with a loud clang to the ground.
Scott was surprised to hear someone clapping from behind him. Scott turned towards the new sound as he tossed the third attacker from him.
"You are a very resourceful man Mr. Duncan," a strange voice addressed Scott. Scott could barely make out two shapes in the dark shadows. One he recognized as Taylor.
"The test is over," the stranger said loudly. Suddenly, some men removed a cover from above and light poured into the store's interior through a skylight in the roof.
Scott shielded his eyes from the bright blast of illumination. He watched as the three attackers slowly recovered themselves and walked over to Taylor and a thin man with short-cropped gray hair.
"Thank you gentlemen, you may return to your posts," the thin man said. The three assailants left the store.
"Mr. Duncan I am Moose Van Dyke," the thin man said as he extended his hand towards Scott.
Scott accepted the firm handshake, "So this was just another test?"
"Why yes," Moose replied. "Taylor has told me about your shooting, and from what I've just witnessed you would make a fine addition to the Anarchists.
"But please, Mr. Duncan, let's step into my office and we can talk in private. I may have a special opening available."
The two men led Scott into a large room that at one time must have been the store manager's office. A skylight let the sun's rays illuminate the room. Scott notice various maps tacked to the walls. An executive desk sat against a far wall that nearly drowned in scattered papers.
"Please have a seat Mr. Duncan," Moose offered a leather chair for Scott to recline in. Moose shifted some papers on the desk and as he sat on the corner, something fell to the ground.
No one seemed to notice the small object except Scott who only glanced at it shortly. Taylor started for the door, "I take it you will conduct this interview in private."
"No, please stay Taylor," Moose said.
"Well, sir I did make a purchase today and I would like..."
"I said stay," Moose responded in a stern commanding voice, "Your trollop can wait until we are done here."
Taylor walked back into the room like a chastised dog. He found another leather chair and pulled it up next to Scott.
"Well, now Mr. Duncan. Were you ever in the military?" Moose asked.
"I was in ROTC before the Big Bang," Scott lied.
"Hmmm, I could tell you had some combat experience that the average waster doesn't possess.
"Now, as I said before I may have special position for you," Moose continued.
Scott's eyes glanced down towards the floor again. He noticed that small object again. It appeared to be a nametag. Scott tried to decipher the letters as Moose went on talking.
"But first I must say, you kind of stepped into the middle of something. It really is regrettable. However, it looks like it may be possible for you to rectify to situation." Scott only was half listening. He almost had the nametag worked out. The last name on it was definitely Van Dyke. Obviously, it belonged to Moose.
"If you are truly interested in joining the anarchists I just need you to perform one last little test," Moose droned one.
Scott finally worked it out and his surprise at the revelation matched the timing of the point Moose was laboriously coming to. As Scott read on the nametag 'Col. Chris Van Dyke' Moose said, "I need you to kill Wade Benson."
"I'm sorry to have to involve you in some of our politics so soon," Moose continued. "But, you see Wade's accident in the waste was no accident. We tampered with his bike so that it would break down in the middle of nowhere. The muties would have been a nice touch until you inadvertently interfered."
"You see Wade asks too many questions. He doesn't fit in," Taylor added.
Moose gave Taylor a stern look and the big man shrank back into his chair.
"Sorry, sir," Taylor offered meekly.
"As my second in command has put it, Wade is a trouble maker. We cannot afford to have trouble makers in the Anarchists," Moose continued.
"So you need me to be your hit man is that it?" Scott interrupted.
"That is one way of putting," Moose replied. "You are close to Wade and if he was to have another accident or if you were to get into a fight leaving Wade dead no one would ask any questions."
Scott stood up and walked over to one of the maps on the wall as if in contemplation. "You can't dirty your hands because it would be bad for morale if you started killing off your own men. You can't use one of your own men for fear of them talking.
"But you can use me. I'm new, I'm a stranger and if I point the finger at you who would believe me anyway."
"You are very astute Mr. Duncan," Moose smiled.
"Please, call me Scott. However, I believe it would only be fair if we laid our cards on the table Colonel."
Taylor shot out of his chair and Moose looked at Scott in surprise.
"How..." Moose began.
Scott pointed towards the nametag on the floor. "I think you could use a better secretary."
Moose chuckled and motioned Taylor to resume his seat. "I guess I did not appreciate how astute you really are Mr....ah, Scott."
"Look, I used to be military, you use to be military and if I am correct Taylor used to be military," Scott said. "So we belong to an order few out there can still claim."
"Captain Barry Taylor," Moose nodded towards Taylor, "and I belonged to Ellsworth Air Force Base before the Big Bang. We were there when everything hit the fan.
"The best scenario we could figure out was that nut job in North Korea smuggled a mobile missile launcher into China. They launched on Russia and before anyone knew what was going on, everyone's automated defense system kicked in. Nuclear, dirty, chemical and biological bombs are flying across the globe.
"Fortunately, Ellsworth was untouched. We lived in those underground bunkers for as long as our food held out. What was it Captain, six months?"
Taylor nodded in affirmation.
"When we popped up to see what was left there were only fifty-three of us alive. We didn't have much trouble establishing our own little empire here in Sturgis. We had the weapons, we had the vehicles and we had the tactics.
"Sure by the time we finished establishing the Anarchists and had established our borders across North and South Dakota there was only me the Captain and five other soldiers left. You fought three of them today."
Scott pointed towards the maps on the walls. "It looks like the restoration of the United States could really put a damper on your empire building."
Taylor nodded again, "Yes, they could. That is why we are digging out the Minuteman..."
"Captain!" roared Moose.
Scott nodded his head, "That is why you are digging out a nuclear warhead."
Before the Colonel could say anything, Scott broke into a smile, "Colonel, Sir I like the way you think. With an unfired nuclear warhead, you could negotiate your own country. The last thing the U.S. needs right now is another nuclear war."
Moose Van Dyke was scowling. He did not like to have his plans revealed. Scott continued to play his part.
"Colonel, you have nothing to worry about from me. I'm in. As proof of my loyalty I will 'take out' your troublemaker -- tonight."
The Colonel broke into a smile, "Please, call me Moose. I don't like to flaunt my military credentials around. It's not too wise nowadays after the Big Bang and all."
Scott smiled towards Taylor, "Moose, Taylor, it is going to be wonderful relationship. Too bad we don't have anything to celebrate with."
Taylor pulled out a metal hip flask, "It pays to be prepared."
"Captain, that wouldn't wet my whistle," Moose replied as he pulled out an old bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey from his drawer.
"I've been saving this for a special occasion and I think it has arrived," the Colonel laughed.
Taylor and Scott joined in.
Moose took a long swig from the bottle before he passed it to Taylor. Taylor followed suit. Scott took enough to make it look like he was drinking and passed the bottle back to Moose.
The three men joked and passed the bottle around until it was almost empty. The sun was starting to set when Taylor fell unconscious into the chair. Moose laughed and pointed towards the Captain.
"That is why he's only a Captain," Moose slurred. Scott laughed and pretended to stagger towards the door.
"Colonel, shir," he slurred. "I have a mission to complete."
"Very well, but pleashe call me Mooshe."
Scott gave a drunken salute and staggered out of the door and across the store. Once outside Scott gave up his drunken persona. He had little time if he wanted to get Sam and rescue his sister before Taylor came to or Moose started to have second thoughts.
Fortunately, from the time he spent at the maps, Scott learned where Taylor and the new residences lived. The sun dipped behind the horizon and Scott hurried down the street.
He soon found the building where Taylor resided. It was a two-story brick building. There were guards posted on the outside and metal bars on the windows. Scott ducked down the alley and surveyed the buildings exterior.
Fortunately, the old fire escape was still intact and the steel bars fastened to the windows from the outside. Obviously, Taylor did not want people to get out. Scott cautiously crept his way up the metal steps of the fire escape. Other than a couple of groans from his weight on the weathered stairs, Scott made little noise.
The scout peered in through every window he could. The first story ones just revealed a kitchen, dining room, and some guard barracks. The second story windows were dark except one. Scott made his way over and looked through the window.
Inside Scott noticed a large bedroom. There was a lamp burning on a stand across the room from the bed. On the bed, a figure in diaphanous clothing shook as it sobbed. Scott knew he found the room he was looking for.
Scott pulled out his Swiss Army knife and began to unscrew a couple of the bars off the window. Recently installed, the steel bars' screws contained little rust to hinder his work. Within five minutes, Scott had the bars removed. He tried the window and it opened with ease. Taylor must have figured that locking windows would be useless when there were bars on them.
Scott stepped through the window and crept over to the sobbing girl. He knew it was Mary from her raven black hair. As quick as a cobra Scott wrapped his hand over the girl's mouth to prevent her giving alarm. The girl struggled fiercely in his arms.
"I came with Sam, we are here to rescue you," Scott whispered in her ear.
Mary suddenly became limp and she looked into Scott's face. She saw the kind and sincere look he gave and nodded that she understood. Scott pulled off his denim jacket and gave it to the shivering woman. Mary quickly pulled it on as she studied the scout in his black leather pants and his grimy white t-shirt.
Scott ushered Mary out the window and step through again into the night onto the fire escape when he suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of a cocking revolver behind his head.
"That's as far as you go Scout," a voice hissed behind him.
Scott could feel the cool metal of the pistol pressed into his skull and the warm breath of his assailant as he hoarsely whispered into Scott's ear. Scott could not see the man with the gun as he stood behind the scout.
"Well, Scout what brought you here in the first place?" the voice grunted. Scott looked over to Mary the young woman just stood there clutching the jacket to her small frame. Her face frozen with horror and drained of blood appeared luminously pale in the moonlight.
Scott found himself in a perilous situation. In a fraction of second, the debate in his head took two forms. He knew he could tell the truth, but there was no telling if his captor would believe it. On the other hand, he could lie, but again there was no telling if the man with the gun to his head would buy it. Either way he could wind up dead.
Scott gambled and determined to tell the truth. It was just implausible enough to be plausible.
"I came to rescue the boy's sister over there," Scott said with a forced steady voice. Anyone who ever said that they did not feel fear when a gun was to their head was either a liar or insane. Scott was neither and it took every ounce of reserve to keep the quiver out of his voice.
"So the boy isn't your son after all?"
Scott slowly shook his head. He tried to steal a glance behind him but all he could make out was a dark silhouette.
"You are not here to destroy the military grade materiel at Fort Meade's Veterans Hospital?" the voice pressed.
"I didn't know anything about until just now," Scott replied.
"Damn," the voice cursed into Scott's ear.
The gun left Scott's head and he heard with relief as the man eased the hammer back into its rest position. Scott spun around and finally received a good look at his assailant. It was none other than Wade.
"I suppose you saw Moose Van Dyke?" Wade asked.
Scott just nodded his head.
"I suppose those bastards were surprised to see me weren't they?"
Scott looked into Wade's eyes. He noticed the sadness and disappointment that registered upon his face as Scott told him about how they sabotaged his bike.
"I suppose as a test of your loyalty -- you are to finish me off, eh?" Wade asked forlornly.
"Yeah, that was the gist of it," Scott replied. "However, I'm just here for the girl and as soon as I get Sam, I'm out of here. You can join us if you wish."
"The boy is at your buggy, and I recommend that you join him ASAP. I have some unfinished business here," Wade said.
Wade stuck out his hand and grabbed Scott's in a firm handshake. "Well, pal. Thanks again for sparing my life. I hope you make it back to the States safe and sound."
Scott nodded and then quickly ushered Mary down the fire escape. As they reached the alley, Scott stole a glance up to the landing. However, Wade was now long gone.
By ducking down alleys and hiding behind derelict automobiles, the pair finally made their way back to the buggy undetected. Sam nearly yelped in surprise to see his sister safe and sound. The two siblings embraced each other and tears fell from their eyes from the reunion.
Scott allowed them a moment to themselves before he interrupted. "Okay, kids we need to get out of here and quick."
"How do we get passed the guards at the gate?" Sam asked. The boy was once again wedged between the seats and the buggies frame positioned in front of the engine.
"Mary, do you think you can operate that gun in front of you?" Scott asked as he fired up the engine.
"Yeah, if I have to. I have no love for these scum," the young woman said vehemently.
"Good," Scott said as he pulled the buggy onto the road. "We may need to shoot our way out."
Scott weaved his way through town and approached the gate that blocked the road exiting town without any opposition. However, the gate appeared closed and locked and there stood two guards with M-16s at the ready.
As Scott pulled the buggy to a stop in front of the gate, two more guards appeared from behind.
"No one leaves town after sundown," one of the guards yelled. "You better head back to town now or we will be forced to open fire."
Scott looked over to Mary. The young woman shook with fear. Her hands frozen beside her body were useless and Scott cursed to himself. He forgot that these people lived in fear; they did not have the combat reflexes that he had acquired over the years.
"Hey buddy, are you going to turn that jalopy around or do we have to riddle your bodies with lead?" exclaimed the lead guard.
The scout revved the engine resigned to ram the gate when suddenly a flash of light flooded the sky behind them. A fraction of a second later a loud explosive blast followed.
Everyone including the occupants of the buggy turned to see what was amiss. Yellow and red flames licked the sky and the occasional crack of small arms fire punctuated the night.
"What the fuh..." the lead guard ejaculated before some one back in town started yelling.
"Uprising! Everyone to arms the slaves are in revolt."
Another guard exclaimed, "They must have reached one of the weapons cache and then destroyed it!"
Scott quickly took advantage of the situation. "Dammit man, open the gate. I need to alert the veterans' hospital. Then you must block this gate so no one can escape."
The lead guard quickly fumbled around with his keys before he found the correct one. The gate flew opened barely seconds before the buggy leapt through them.
The small buggy flew down the road as men from Fort Meade's Veterans Hospital ran towards town. A few vehicles also started to make their way onto the road. Scott just weaved his way between them before an M113 armored personnel carrier forced him to halt by blocking his way.
The gunner looked down from the M113 onto the buggy, "Hey, were the hell are you guys going?"
"Umm, we were sent to dispatch the garrison to put down the slave revolt in town," Scott replied.
"Well, consider it done. Now turn that buggy around and get back to town or you will be shot," the gunner yelled back.
The explosive rumble of a machine gun tore through the chaos. Scott watched as bullets pounded into the side of the APC as it stitched its way up to the gunner. The Anarchist tumbled backwards as bullets perforated his body.
Scott glanced over to the source of the noise to see Mary had the M60 machinegun elevated as far as it could go. Smoke still streamed from the barrel.
"There's no way in hell I'm going back," Mary said in a stern angry voice.
Before any of the Anarchists on the road could determine what was going on, Scott had the buggy swerving around the APC and disappearing down the battered road. A few rifles and pistols opened up on the buggy before the three escapees vanished into the night.
The sun was rising over the eastern horizon by the time Scott pulled the buggy off the highway and into the city that Sam and Scott had met up with the Anderson Brothers Salvagers. The scout stopped the buggy when he reached the post office that contained his Charger.
As he stepped out of the vehicle, he noticed that Mary and Sam were both sleeping. No one had bothered with conversation during the night. The only thing that mattered to them was escaping the Anarchists.
Scott stretched his limbs and released a yawn as he looked upon the two sleeping figures. Sam wedged in the cramped compartment behind the seats had curled himself up like a dog. Mary's head rested upon her chest.
That was when Scott noticed that the denim jacket was soaked in blood. "NO!" Scott yelled as he rushed to the passenger side of the buggy.
Sam shot up from his curled up position and looked towards the scout. As he followed Scott's gaze to his sister Sam quickly reached out to Mary and shook her still form.
"Mary! Wake up, Mary!" Sam cried with tears flowing down his cheeks.
Scott lifted the woman out of the seat and laid her upon the litter-strewn road. He quickly searched her body and found the bullet wound. One of the Anarchists weapons had found its mark. The bullet had entered from just under Mary's right arm and exited just above her right breast.
The scout was able to register a feeble pulse. Quickly he removed the denim jacket and tore off the upper right part of the nightgown. Then Scott tore off the lower hem of the nightgown, being the cleanest material around he used it to bind Mary's wound.
"Is she going to live?" Sam sobbed.
Scott looked into Sam's watering eyes. The sorrow there nearly floored him. Scott returned to attending to Mary, "Sam, go get the first aid kit out of the Charger."
As the boy ran into the dilapidated building Scott finally answered, "I don't know."
Sam promptly returned with the first aid kit. Scott undid his makeshift bandage and cleaned the wound. Finally, he rebound it with sterile bandages from the kit. Unfortunately, that was all he could do.
Sam sniffed. "Mary, please don't die," he begged his unconscious sister, "Please!"
Scott gingerly lifted the woman and took her inside the post office. He laid her upon the floor. Her pulse was weak, but her bleeding had now stopped.
"She's lost a lot of blood," Scott said more to himself than to Sam. "If only we could give her a transfusion."
Alas, the lack of proper equipment and knowledge prevented Scott from administering something that was routine in any ambulance or clinic before the Big Bang. The closest hospital was probably in Billings hundreds of miles away.
Scott did everything he could to make Mary comfortable. His leather black jacket covered her torso. The old worn denim jacket was now serving as a pillow. Sam kneeled by her side and kept a tearful vigil.
Fearing that a patrol may be on their trail Scott pulled the buggy into the post office and parked it next to his Charger. As he waited for any sign of improvement in Mary, Scott removed the .30 machinegun from the buggy and stored it in the black muscle car.
Scott no sooner returned to Sam's side next to Mary than the woman gave out a loud gasp. Her eyes fluttered opened and she hastily searched around the room with her head. "Sam. Sam," she said hoarsely.
"I'm here," Sam replied as he squeezed Mary's hand. Mary looked over at Sam.
"I can barely see you Sam," Mary said weakly.
"Mary, it'll be all right. You'll see," the boy offered in a tear-choked voice.
"Thank you, for rescuing me," Mary whispered. "I could never have survived there."
"You just rest and get better," Sam choked out tearfully.
"Sam? Sam, are you there?" Mary asked.
"Yes Mary," sobbed the boy.
"Sam, I see Ma and Pa. They look well," and with that Mary expelled her last breath.
"NO!!!" Sam screamed. The young boy threw himself prostrate over his sister's form and let grief overcome him. Scott wept as he watched the boy shake as deep sobs racked his small frame.
The scout allowed the boy an hour of grief before he tore the listless boy from Mary's body. Sam offered no resistance as Scott led him to the Charger and then lifted him inside. Scott recovered his leather jacket and used the denim jacket to cover Mary's dead form.
The Charger roared to life as Scott started the vehicle. The engine's rumbling purr shook the walls of the post office. The scout drove the black car outside and parked it across the street. Scott then climbed out and ducked back into the post office.
Not paying much attention to the outside world Sam half watched the scout disappear into the building. As Scott returned, black smoke started to emanate from the structure.
Scott slowly drove the Charger back towards the highway. Within three minutes, flames engulfed the post office. The telltale black smoke rose into the horizon as Scott drove north back towards North Dakota.
Sam grieved in silence as the muscle car once again sped down the worn road. Given all they had endured in the last twenty-four hours Scott was relieved to be back in his scout vehicle. The thick hide surrounding them would have stopped the bullet that killed Mary.
Scott pushed the thought from his mind and drove along the highway in silence.
The roar of the Charger's engine was its own music and Scott never tired of hearing it. With any luck before nightfall, the two would be within the safe confines of the United States.
Scott could only hope that the Anarchists would see the trail of smoke and investigate. That would leave his route open to the borders of Montana. An uneventful passage was all Scott prayed for now.
Unfortunately, the rapid pinging off the back of the Charger let Scott know that God was not answering his prayers today. A quick glance at his monitor brought a score of buggies and bikers approaching from his rear.
Scott stepped onto the accelerator. The Charger lurched forward in unrestrained power. The rear tires spat out dirt and small stones as they dug into the crumbling concrete.
As the black vehicle flew down the road, the buggies and bikes matched its speed. The small arms of the motorcycles did not bother Scott. However, the medium arms of the buggies could do some serious damage if they found the right spot.
The muscle car weaved back and forth, as bullets whizzed by or impacted into the rear armor. The Montana border seemed to creep closer ever so slowly. Scott reached for his long-range radio if the atmospherics were right and there was someone close enough he could radio for help.
"Mayday! Mayday! This is a United States Scout vehicle asking for any assistance," Scott screamed as more bullets pounded into the back of the Charger.
The chase led them through the small hills and steep cliffs of the badlands. Scott kept repeating his message. The bikers and buggies also kept up their fire.
"Okay, Scout stop your vehicle now!" a voice crackled over the radio. Suddenly five Abrams M1 tanks crested the hills in front of Scott and above two Cobra AH-1s flew. Scott slammed on the brakes and the Charger reluctantly slid to a stop.
"Damn," the scout cursed. It appeared Van Dyke and company finally had them.
When the tanks reached the top of the hills, they open fire. Sam stared in awe as the mighty guns exploded. Scott was amazed as the first salvo screamed overhead and smashed into the ranks of Anarchists.
The motorbikes and buggies flew into the air in twisted burning wreckage. Then the helicopters opened up with their machineguns. The 20 mm rounds fired from the M197 tri-barrel chewed up what the tanks did not destroy. In a matter of half a minute, the entire Anarchist patrol laid destroyed smoking and burning in the late afternoon sun.
Scott now noticed the white stars and American flags painted on the vehicles.
"Looks like you are in the clear, Scout," the mysterious voice crackled over the radio again. "Welcome back to the United States of America."
General MacKenzie paced back and forth in the briefing room. He had just finished debriefing Scott and the report of a petty dictator trying to carve himself an empire out in South Dakota greatly troubled him.
"We've dealt with crazies styling themselves after Napoleon before," the large general said. "But we never had to deal with one who wanted to play at Armageddon. Hell, you'd think we all would have learned something over the last twelve years."
Scott just sat behind the table watching the general march back and forth before the dry erase board. The military base situated just outside of Billings represented the farthest eastern reach of the United States in the north.
"You know general, we may need your fire power to help us get to the Twin Cities," Scott finally said.
"Impossible," the general barked. "We are all that stands between this fried-out colonel and the rest of the United States. You know how hard it is to get five M1s not to mention those two Cobras?"
"General, we don't stand a chance if we send our usual convoy east. How about that Apache you've been working on? I also know you have some of those old Pattons."
"The AH64 is nearly repaired. However, it is a moot point. There is no way the president and the congress is going to allow me to loan you that helicopter or those three M60s."
The general groaned, "Ah hell, we have a month to ready the convoy and fix up your car. Who knows maybe I can work some kind of miracle. You didn't happen to see what all they had there at Fort Meade did you?"
"Sorry general," Scott replied. "I only saw one M113 APC. In fact, I thought they caught up to us when I first saw your forces. Thank God, we started painting the white stars back on our equipment."
The general laughed, "Yeah, it has been about half a century since we did that. But, things have changed and now more than ever we need to be able to tell us from them.
"Not to change the subject. But, have you decided what you'll do about the kid?" the general asked with genuine concern.
"I guess I haven't really thought about it," Scott said. "I suppose I'll have to adopt him otherwise he'll be sent to a coast detention center. That would be pretty cruel after losing all of his family."
The general groaned, "You know that there are regulations about that."
Scott scratched his chin in thought before he finally broke out in a smile, "Unless the refugee from the Wastes has a special talent that would greatly benefit the United States."
The general stared at Scott for a while, "What in the hell could that kid offer us. He's hardly a mechanic or an engineer."
"No, but I could definitely use a top gunner for my car," Scott countered.
"WHAT!?!" the general exclaimed. "I doubt that kid even held a gun before he met you. He's no top gunner."
"Yet -- General -- he's no gunner yet. I was kind of hoping you'd help out with this. After all, we have a month to scratch together a convoy and I need a gunner for the new turret I'm adding to the Charger."
The general pondered it for a couple of minutes. Finally, MacKenzie shook his head, "Sorry, Scott this is likely to be a suicide mission. I can't have you take a kid out to the Wastes."
"General, if we send that kid to a detention center where he doesn't know anyone that too could well be a suicide mission. Things aren't what they were before the Big Bang. Hell, that kid has spent his entire life living in the Wastes. He knows it better than any of us I'd bet," Scott answered hotly, his face flushed red.
"Ok, we'll put it to the kid," the general finally relented. "You know if we hadn't been friends for the last ten years I'd never let you talk to me like that."
Scott chuckled, "Well, thank God for friendship."
Sam eagerly accepted Scott's proposal to be his adopted son and gunner. The Charger now had a turret mounted on its roof that housed the M60 machinegun Scott liberated from the Anarchist buggy. It could rotate 360 degrees, which finally gave the black scout vehicle some rear offense.
Scott was starting to get irritated from wasters always pounding away at his rear. Buying a new machinegun would never have been within Scott's immediate budget. However, with the find of the M60, he now had a gift from the Wastes and he intended to use it.
The next few weeks saw the gathering for the convoy inside Billings that would try to make its way east. The usual array of armed and armored semi-tractors pulling trailers loaded with various goods comprised the heart of the convoy. However, the escorts for these goods were wide and varied in make-up as well as experience.
Scott noted many newcomers to the escort party. The high bounty promised to each driver and crew ensured that many people would tryout for escort duty. Some people showed up with nothing more than a stock vehicle from before the Big Bang and a handgun. However, the convoy committee denied them access to join the convoy on their own. But, they could join up with the more established escorts if those escorts needed additional crew.
The bulk of the escorts comprised the usual experienced crews that drove armored vehicles not unlike Scott's Charger. There was the 'Road Crew' a semi-tractor that pulled a trailer that not only housed and repaired the five armed motorcycles it carried, but also mounted two open turrets that each contained twin-M2 Browning machineguns.
Scott recognized many of the lightly armored buggies that would serve as picket duty in the Wastes. There were several armored cars ranging from old Volkswagen bugs to the more modern SUVs each carrying machineguns and/or recoilless rifles.
However, the one that stood out the most and received the most respect was the 'Armadillo'. The Armadillo at one time was a standard Mack semi-truck. Now, the big rig boasted heavy armor and a conversion van's body attached to its rear that used to mount the fifth wheel. A turret on the van's top housed a 25 mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun that was capable of firing up to 200 rounds a minute. The front of the Armadillo and the rear each contained an M240 7.62 mm machine gun. Though the vehicle did resemble its namesake, the offensive capabilities would tend to have one rename it the 'Wolverine'.
The Armadillo's fame also had to do with its crew. 'Mad Momma McGee', a large stocky woman who before the Big Bang could have been mistaken for a dockworker, drove the big rig. She wore a perpetual scowl as well as a flannel shirt and blue jeans. Her crew was comprised of women who either she or Scott rescued from the Wastes.
As Scott and Sam walked over to the Armadillo, he overheard a newly organized crew joking about the Armadillo's crew.
"Man, this gig is great. A brothel on wheels," laughed a small man working on a buggy.
The man sitting behind the gun snorted and replied, "I hear the real name should be called the 'Armored dil...'"
"HEY!" shouted Scott to the two men before the offensive word was completed. Scott briskly marched over to the dumbfounded jokesters.
"Don't you dare try to cross those women. They are tougher and meaner than you think," Scott lectured.
The man working on the engine shrugged his shoulders as if he did not care. Scott grabbed the man and spun him around, as he pushed him against the frame of the buggy.
"Listen friend," Scott continued in a low harsh voice. "Those women survived the Wastes. I rescued a couple myself from rape-gangs. If you think they have any love for men go ahead and try and warm-up to one of them. You may just lose something dear to you." Scott motioned to the man's crotch. The joker turned white and muttered an apology.
Scott grabbed Sam and continued his trip towards the Armadillo. Mad Momma turned as the scout neared and her usual scowl broke into a genuine smile.
"If I don't live and breathe," Mad Momma exclaimed. "The famous Scott Malice is going to join this party."
"How are you doing, Julia?" Scott countered. Few ever realized Mad Momma's real name was Julia Knudsen.
Several of the surly looking women on the Armadillo smiled and waved down to Scott.
"I can't complain," Julia said. "Kind of getting quiet so the girls and I thought we'd take a trip out to the Midwest."
Scott smiled and warmly hugged the large woman. Scott always feared this bear of a person would break his ribs in one of her bone-crushing embraces.
"Who's your friend?" Julia asked as she smiled to Sam.
"This is my son and gunner, Sam," Scott replied.
"Another orphan rescued from the Wastes, eh?" Mad Momma said. "You know your soft heart is going to get you killed one day."
"Like you are one to talk," Scott parried as he nodded to the women readying the Armadillo.
Scott and Mad Momma caught up on each other's recent adventures. They were laughing when a sergeant approached Scott.
"Excuse me, sir," the soldier interrupted. "The general needs to see you."
Scott's face became serious, "What is it?"
"Some people escaping the Wastes have crossed the border," the sergeant replied. "One of them claims to know you."
The sergeant escorted Scott inside the chain-linked fence that marked the boundaries of Fort Billings. Scott noticed that the base was a hive of activity. Soldiers and vehicles were racing around the compound.
The sergeant pulled his humvee up to an administrative building. Scott and his escort exited the vehicle and two more soldiers joined the duo as they entered the building. The scout watched the occupants rushing around the interior. Something big was definitely going down.
Again, Scott found himself inside the office of General MacKenzie. Upon entering, the general offered Scott a chair on the other side of his desk. The general reclined in his leather executive chair.
"We have found a friend of yours," the general began as soon Scott seated himself.
The scout just looked at the soldier quizzically. The general barked an order to a sergeant standing near the door. The sergeant opened the door and a stocky man was ushered into the room by two soldiers.
Scott rose from the seat; there in General MacKenzie's office stood Wade Benson.
"Wade you old son of gun!" Scott exclaimed with a big smile on his face.
The general motioned for Scott to regain his seat. "I'm afraid Mr. Benson's visit is not a social call."
Wade shook his head and gave a muffled laugh, "Sorry about that Scout. It did take some convincing that I knew you. After all, the only name I had was a Scott Duncan. Fortunately, it must have been close enough that the soldiers let my party of refugees and me into the U.S. After the slave rebellion, which allowed you to escape, things got a little too hot in Sturgis.
"The revolt did not last longer than half an hour. However many slaves were able to escape, especially the children. I figured they stood a better chance in the Wastes than with the Anarchists."
General MacKenzie cleared his throat and Wade looked at him sheepishly.
"Right, the point of my being here is two fold. First of all, I decided to take you up on your offer. I figure a little stay on the coast will do me some good.
"Secondly, I received word just before I skedaddled that Moose had sent Taylor with some troops and equipment to unite the warlords and take over Minneapolis. If any man can unite them and possibly defeat Saint Paul, it is Moose Van Dyke.
"Moose has also gathered every Anarchist he could. He's planning something big."
"Sergeant," General MacKenzie ordered softly to the soldier standing at-ease by the door. "Please, escort Mr. Benson to his holding cell until we can organize some transportation for his group to the camps out west."
Wade quickly grasped Scott's hand in a warm handshake. "Until we meet again, bro."
Scott stood up and slapped Wade on the shoulder, "Your time will go by faster than you know. If you ever need a job, let me know. This time I'll give the references."
The sergeant led Wade out of the room and closed the door behind him; thus, leaving the general and the scout alone in silence.
Neither man looked at each other for a few seconds. The news Wade offered had both deep in thought. Finally, the general took the initiative.
"How are the preparations for the convoy coming along?"
"We are nearly complete. We were planning of leaving tonight, but in view of this new information I think it is important that we postpone it a bit and gather some more forces."
"Negative," the general sternly replied. "Our window of opportunity is now. We cannot wait too much longer. Though the weather is finally starting to normalize, the early winters will be setting in soon. Quite frankly, we have to have the route secured and outposts constructed as quickly as we can."
Scott hated being forced into no-win situations so he tried another option, "How about the possibility of an escort from some of your forces?"
The general shook his head, "Sorry, but I cannot spare anyone. The president and congress has denied your request for our help."
"What's going on general?" Scott asked. "Something is going on. This base has never been this active before."
General MacKenzie shifted himself uneasily in his chair, "Officially you saw nothing. But, between friends we are pulling out."
Scott looked at the general in shock, "You are pulling out of Fort Billings?"
The general meekly nodded his head, "I'm sorry, but you are on your own."
The convoy and its escorts were in position to leave as the sun sank behind the mountains. Scott was to lead this motley crew of mish-mash vehicles across the Wastes, so he chose his escort deployment with care.
Two motorcycles and three buggies were to be on forward picket duty. Behind them and leading the pack would follow the Armadillo. The Wrecking Crew and their truck would follow the convoy. The heavier armored and armed vehicles flanked the convoy. Scott would ride herd and like the cowboys of old, he was determined to get this convoy to their destination regardless of the obstacles.
"Ok, folks this is the Dark One, let's get this party moving," Scott ordered over his CB radio.
"Roger that Dark One," a voice crackled over the radio in response.
Engines revved up and split the night air. Slowly the large convoy started to rumble forward into the night. Before long, the twenty convoy trucks and the forty-five escort vehicles were on the move.
Driving at night was a mixed bag. Although most of the vehicles lacked the low-light amplification gear the Charger had, they therefore had to use their headlights. The chance of encountering an ambush by the wasters was significantly lower.
Unfortunately, the convoy could only move as fast as its slowest vehicle so it would be sunrise before the party was half way through North Dakota. That would be the most dangerous time for the convoy, for the drivers and crews would be suffering from exhaustion and the wasters would be alert and ready.
The night driving went better than Scott anticipated. The battered roads offered few obstacles that required avoidance by the convoy. Only twice did the Armadillo need to pull a boulder out of the path of the vehicles. Even the weather held out.
As the morning sun rose over the desolate horizon, Scott could not but feel a sense of relief. Fighting a battle with the wasters at night would have been very difficult.
The further the convoy rolled down the old highway the better Scott felt. He knew they still had a long ways to go. But, maybe the Anarchists were too occupied to bother with his group.
The convoy had traveled for over three hours after sunrise before Scott noticed something behind them. Over the horizon, a telltale cloud of dirt rose into the air. From the size of it, Scott figure there were many vehicles heading their way.
Scott cursed mildly. He stole a glance over towards Sam sitting in the passenger seat. The boy held a joystick and studied a monitor that controlled the turret on the roof.
"Sam, you think you'll be ok using that thing. We won't be shooting at wooden targets."
Sam merely nodded. Scott could not see his face for the boy wore a crash helmet much like the one Scott wore. Both helmets hooked up to the radio to allow them to talk over the CB if they needed.
"Great, can you zero in with your gun camera on the dirt cloud behind us?" Scott asked.
On their monitor, the image of hundreds of motorcycles and buggies filled the horizon. The wasters were gaining on the convoy fast.
"Ok, everyone I guess it was too much to expect that the locals would allow us through their territory without bothering us. We have multiple bogies coming up from behind. Fireman, I need you to drop back here with me and help give these guys a warm reception."
"Roger that Dark One," a voice crackled over the radio.
The Fireman drove a red 1978 Ford Bronco. The truck boasted an open mount that a gunner occupied. The gunner could turn 360 degrees to fire his flamethrower armed with napalm. Not many of the other escort vehicles wanted to be near the Fireman for obvious reasons.
The Bronco fell back next to the Charger. The two vehicles decreased their speed a little to allow the convoy to increase the gap between them and the wasters.
"Ok, let's let them get close enough that we can maximize our firepower, but far enough away that they won't overwhelm us," Scott said through his radio.
"Roger, that Dark One. The Fireman is ready."
"Sam, remember to fire in short bursts. We need to conserve our ammo."
Sam nodded his small hands tightened their grip on the joystick. The image of the Anarchists grew on the monitor as they rapidly closed ground.
Scott started to sweat. He had never encountered this many wasters before.
"NOW!" Scott ordered as the first wave of buggies and motorbikes approached the black Charger and the red Bronco.
Sam fired the M60 in bursts as he had learned over the last month. The .30 machinegun chewed up a couple of buggies and scattered many of the motorcycles. However, the vast majority of the Anarchists continued unabated.
The red Bronco fell further behind the Charger and as the wasters drew even closer, the gunner onboard the truck finally opened up with the flamethrower. Unlike, with the machinegun, the wasters could not avoid the fiery death that spewed out of the nozzle of the flamethrower. The napalm engulfed the exposed occupants of the buggies and motorcycles.
The highway behind the fleeing convoy was a landscape of fire and smoke. The burning vehicles in the wake of the Fireman's outburst spun off the road. Many of the wrecked vehicles collided with the reckless souls that drove through the burning napalm that covered the highway.
"Yeah!" screamed the Fireman. "Looks like we really piled them up there."
Scott surveyed the carnage behind them. It only took a few moments before the Anarchists resumed their pursuit. Again, they approached the two vehicles even if it was at a greater distance.
The crack of small arms from the motorcycles as well as the occasional tattoo of the machineguns on the buggies split the air. Every now and then, the ting or ping of a bullet would glance off the armor of the Charger. From the range the pursuers were firing, it was highly unlikely they could do any serious damage.
Though the Anarchists stayed out of range of the flamethrower, they were still within the range of the M60. Sam would let go burst after burst. Most of the time he would hit a buggy or a motorcycle, nonetheless they kept coming on.
"Ok, Fireman, see if you can get them with a lake of fire," Scott said.
"Roger," the Fireman responded.
The flamethrower opened up again. This time the gunner laid out a long line of napalm working the nozzle back and forth until a thick wall of fire consumed the highway. The Anarchists initially thought it was another burst like the previous one. Their mistake was that they tried to drive quickly through the flames. Unfortunately, the fire did not end soon enough for most to make it to the other side. Flaming vehicles with burning occupants burst out the other side of the flames only to spin off the highway or to tumble down the old road.
The Anarchists broke into two formations and went over the open country bypassing the flames altogether. Fortunately, this slowed down the pursuers. In order for them to close in on the convoy, they would have to regain the highway.
The wasters were learning. They would move close enough for the Fireman to release a stream of napalm then they would drop back out of range and drive around the pool of fire. Sam was having better luck with the M60. His small bursts were quick and deadly. Many an Anarchist and their vehicle littered the highway riddled with .30 bullet holes.
A strange and familiar noise reached Scott's ear. It took only a fraction of a second for the scout to remember the noise of a police siren. A glance at his monitor showing the highway behind the muscle car showed a dirty white police cruiser speeding towards them. The light bar flashed and the siren wailed.
Scott would have laughed if the situation were not so serious. Did the wasters really expect him to pull over or were they just trying to gain his attention? Regardless the police cruiser sped down the road in pursuit.
Another glance at the monitor brought Scott back to the present. The windshield of the cruiser was missing and on the passenger side, a grenade launcher was mounted. The gunner was taking careful aim at the Charger.
Sam had been sighting up the cruiser and just before the M60 fired, Scott drove the Charger in an erratic back and forth zigzag down the highway. Seconds later the ground exploded just behind the Charger. Concrete and shrapnel plastered the rear armor of the Charger. The muscle car's rear end was momentarily lifted off the ground and as it slammed back to earth, Sam fired the machinegun.
The burst fired high and only managed to shoot out the red light and the siren on the cruiser. The gunner in the cruiser worked frantically to reload the grenade launcher as Sam quickly tried to regain his aim on the police car.
The Fireman pulled in behind Scott putting itself between the cruiser and the Charger.
"Don't worry buddy. We'll get these jokers," the Fireman reported over the radio. "We'll give them a first class ticket to hell..."
The Fireman never finished his statement as the grenade launcher fired again. This time it hit behind the Bronco. But it was much closer than the near miss on the Charger. The end result was that the Bronco flipped into the air. As it tumbled back onto the highway on its top, sparks and road debris flew around the truck. The Bronco slid for a few yards before coming to a complete stop. Flames began to lick the sides of the vehicle.
The cruiser no longer paying any heed to the demolished Bronco pulled around the derelict and resumed its pursuit of the Charger. Scott watched as the gunner aimed the loaded the grenade launcher at the Charger. Sam frantically tried to aim the turret towards the police car. However, Scott knew that Sam would not be in time and that he would not be able to dodge the impending shot.
Time seemed to slow down as Scott stared at his monitor. The police cruiser had just pulled in front of the burning Bronco. The gunner was taking careful aim with the grenade launcher. Behind the cruiser, the Anarchist buggies and bikes filled the horizons still in hot pursuit of the convoy.
Scott out of his periphery noticed Sam fighting the joystick to bring the M60 machinegun to bear on the cruiser and its one flashing blue light. Scott also noticed that on Sam's monitor the gun's aim was too high. It appeared that the M60 took forever to respond to the boy's control.
All this only took a fraction of a second. It would only be another fraction of a second before the grenade launcher fired again and its projectile found its mark. There was no way the cruiser could miss.
However, before the gunner could squeeze the trigger a terrible explosion ripped the horizon behind the cruiser. The fire engulfing the wrecked Bronco finally found the tanks of napalm. The virulent liquid spewed across the landscape encapsulating the police cruiser. The concussion from the blast propelled the Charger even further ahead down the road as chunks of steel and concrete rained down from the sky.
The police cruiser itself exploded as the fire ignited the grenade rounds inside it. The burning vehicle still sped down the highway. Its roof was a tattered and torn hunk of metal. Fire burned over every square inch of its surface. The cruiser then began to tumble as the tires exploded from the intense heat from the napalm.
It took half a minute before Scott could recover from the shock of his near miss. A glance at the monitor revealed a scene from hell. Fire shot high into the air as the thick black smoke curled into the sky. The blackened hull of the police cruiser finally came to rest in the barrow pit fire still raging over its surface.
Then like demons from hell itself, the figures of men in buggies and on motorcycles rode through the inferno again trying to catch the convoy. Scott had to give them a nod for determination. They had been bloodied and smelled blood. This only made them more aggressive.
Without the Fireman, only Scott stood between the Anarchists and the convoy.
"OK, we were only able to stall them for a while," Scott squawked over the radio. "Everyone needs to be in full defensive positions."
Several trucks and cars fell back from the convoy to join Scott. The buggies and motorcycles of the escorts flanked the convoy trucks and would occasionally weave in between the semis. The specialty vehicles, like the former Fireman, remained in the center of the convoy.
It was only a couple of minutes before the first wave of wasters broke over the rear defenses. The cars and trucks of the escorts fired their myriad of weapons at the Anarchists. Many of the wasters ignored the escort vehicles to take aim at the convoy trucks. The wasters fell by great numbers, either due to the escort vehicles or to the heavy machineguns on the trailers of the big rigs.
The radio chatter was relentless as the escorts and convoys communicated to each other. Some were making suggestions, others were asking for assistance, and occasionally a scream presaging death broke over the airwaves.
The battle reminded Scott of combat footage he had seen of bombers and their escorts during raids in World War II. The "little friends" escort planes would try to engage the enemy before they reached the bombers. The enemy fighters would try to burst through the ranks of the defending aircraft to attack the bombers. Even then, the bombers were not without their defenses, as they would fire their machineguns into the oncoming fighters.
Once Scott passed, a convoy truck jackknifed in the middle of the highway. The truck itself belched out smoke from where the wasters had riddled it with bullets. The trailer though was still sound and the gun crews kept firing like mad at the onslaught of wasters. One of the gunners on the front turret waved for Scott to drive passed.
As the Charger, shot past Scott noticed that the pursuing Anarchists seemed to forget about the convoy and converged on the lone stricken truck. Many a waster paid for underestimating the strength and determination of the gun crews on the trailer. Buggies, bikes, and a couple of cars lay demolished around the trailer.
The sacrifice of the stricken convoy truck allowed the escorts to finish off the initial wave of Anarchists amongst the trucks. Soon the depleted convoy was speeding down the highway unmolested.
Everyone was beginning to run low on ammunition. The convoy would need to stop somewhere and set up static defenses if it was going to withstand another onslaught like the last one. So far, the convoy was lucky it had only lost one truck. The escort vehicles however were not so well off. They had lost seventeen leaving only twenty-eight escort vehicles and some of these needed repairs.
The Wrecking Crew was able to board, reload, refuel, and rearm the buggies and motorcycles on the road. However the cars and trucks of the escort force would have to make due until they could find a place to stop for the night.
Night, Scott could not believe that it was now getting close to sundown. They fought throughout most of the day and the lack of sleep and exhaustion on the crew was beginning to take effect. Occasionally a vehicle would start to weave when the driver dozed off.
"There should be a town up ahead," Scott said over the CB. "I believe the name is Valley City. Everyone head north on 8th Avenue Southwest just off the interstate exit and cross the Sheyenne River we can set up a good defensive line there.
"Mad Momma, have the pickets continue past the town for a few miles and then have them report back."
"Roger," Julia responded from the Armadillo.
The lead vehicles of the convoy were beginning to enter Valley City when an urgent cry went out over the radio.
"This is Picket One, my God! There are tanks heading our way. We need..." the radio message suddenly went dead with static as a loud boom punctuated the twilight.
"This is Mad Momma," Julia said over the radio in a worried voice. "My dorsal gunner is reporting five tanks heading towards us. We are covering the exits to Valley City. We are going to need help to slow them down if we are to get everyone into town."
"Bumblebee and Wrangler we are going to need you up front," Scott ordered.
Bumblebee and Wrangler were both specialty vehicles and had so far been out of the thick of combat. Now it was time for them to earn their pay.
Bumblebee was a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle. Solid black paint covered the rear and as the eye swept forward towards the front, it would notice that the solid black would break into bands of vertical black stripes over a yellow body and then return to a solid black on the trunk in front. The face of a bee in grim determination covered the front of the Bug.
To further the illusion of the flying insect the barrel of a 90 mm recoilless rifle protruded out from the trunk resembling a stinger or proboscis. On the roof were mounted four loudspeakers two on the driver's side and two on the passenger's side resembling small wings.
Wrangler on the other hand was an old Brinks armored truck painted in a Holstein pattern. A set of Texas longhorn horns mounted on the hood added to the cow theme. The armor truck did not boast any visible weapons because it had none. Its sole purpose was to carry and lay landmines in the event when the convoy needed to go to static defense.
"This is Bumblebee, Roger!" the voice on the radio replied in excitement. The two men who drove and operated the Bug had a reputation of being thrill seekers. Sometimes they had a tendency to push the envelope too far. However, they always accomplished their tasks.
As usual as the bee painted VW shot off down the highway towards combat, the jazzy version of 'The Flight of the Bumblebee' used as the Green Hornet theme song blared over the loudspeakers. The music lifted everyone's spirits as it sped by. Many trucks honked and everyone yelled encouragement as the Bug drove past.
"This is Wrangler, good buddy, I'm on my way," the voice of the Wrangler said in his thick Texas draw. "Yee-haw!"
The heavy armored truck followed the Bug towards the front of the pack.
Bumblebee flew past the Armadillo in the orange twilight towards the tanks. The Armadillo started to open up its 25 mm cannon giving the small VW some cover.
With the sun setting to the west behind the convoy, the tanks were at a disadvantage for firing at their targets. The glare from the sunlight blinded the gunners.
The VW approached the first tank an M60 and fired its 90 mm recoilless rifle. The shot hit home and a muffled explosion filled the air as thick smoke poured of the tank's turret. The other tanks, all Pattons as well, tried to return fire. The big guns could not turn to meet the little bee painted car in time. However, the machineguns on the tanks did give adequate cover. Bumblebee had to swerve and dodge the incoming shots. Even though armor covered the body, its skin was not as thick as Scott's Charger.
The 25 mm shells from the Bushmaster on the Armadillo destroyed the turret on a second tank. The music continued to blare over the loudspeakers as Bumblebee readied itself for another shot. The VW fired its projectile simultaneously as the M60 it was targeting fired its main gun, both vehicles exploded in a fiery flash.
Mad Momma watched in sadness as the daring little car disintegrated before her eyes. Three tanks lay smoking on the old highway the other two started to pull back as some M113 APCs pulled up. The Bushmaster was able to take out two before Scott ordered the Armadillo to pull back into town.
The Wrangler had been racing up and down and back and forth in front of the Armadillo delivering its deadly payload. The highway now suitably covered in mines would stop the tanks for the night, as they would need to clear the obstacles before they could enter the town.
"The field is now covered in cow pies." Wrangler drawled. "I'm sorry those fellas didn't make it. I liked their style."
When the first semis entered the town of Valley City, they were surprised to be fired upon by wasters. The small arms fire did nothing to the big rigs other than scratching some paint. The return fire from the trailers and the escorts was devastating. Before Bumblebee had destroyed its first tank, the convoy secured Valley City. Many wasters simply surrendered when they saw wave after wave of vehicles drive into town.
The town also housed many citizens who farmed along the local river. The same river Scott prayed would offer the convoy some defense as the convoy prepared for a siege. As the sun finally vanished behind the western horizon the last of the escorts were rumbling into town.
Two loud explosions to the east told Scott that the Anarchist's heavy vehicles found the landmines Wrangler had set down. The armored car still carried a sizable load of mines that Scott would need for the defense of the town.
Scott pulled his Charger into the middle of a large parking lot. Nine wasters stood in the same parking lot with their hands on their heads. Guards from the convoy with readied weapons stood over their prisoners.
"Get those trailers set up in a circle," Scott ordered as he stepped out of the muscle car. "You get some of those prisoners to unload those trailers into that warehouse," the scout pointed to one of the guards.
After a brief period, the Armadillo drove up and parked next to Scott. Julia jumped out of the cab. For a large woman she could move rather gracefully.
"Looks like they still have two good tanks and maybe three APCs," the large woman stated as she approached Scott. "They did us a favor by running two more APCs over those landmines. They should keep their distance tonight."
"Good. That's good," Scott replied. "We need to get our defenses up as quickly as possible. See if any of the locals will help. Our people are dead on their feet. Offer the locals anything you think may help. I'm sure none of them have had much food in a long time."
"This is a good place to hole up. We'll need to destroy as many bridges as we can tonight. Plus, those back roads will need to be mined as well," Julia offered.
"Ok, let's get some work details going. We'll do this in shifts so we can grant everyone a little shuteye," Scott shouted.
All through the night, the convoy with the assistance of many of the local people began setting up defenses. The lighter vehicles like the buggies and motorcycles had their weapons stripped and were dispersed throughout the pocket of the town they were defending. Many of the buildings and houses now boasted a recoilless rifle or a machinegun.
The deadly truck trailers formed a steel wall across bridges the convoy did not destroy and many back roads. Placed in front of the trailers were rifle pits manned by the seventy-four available personnel from the convoy.
Scott was dozing behind the wheel of his Charger when Mad Momma approached the open car door.
"We are one waster short after head count," Julia said as Scott shot awake mildly cursing himself for dozing off.
"Relax," Julia said. "You've been busy for the last twenty-four hours. Anyway, it is as you thought, one would try and make a break for it"
"Fine," Scott said with a parched voice. "Get the remaining eight locked up in one of the trailers. Then let's get the contents of the convoy hidden inside that bank over there." Scott pointed to the old Wells Fargo building a few blocks down from the parking lot.
When the sun finally rose above the eastern horizon, the two sides were able to get a good look at each other. The Anarchists found Valley City a veritable fortress. Only a couple of bridges remained intact. The ones leading to the western part of town where the convoy took refuge still stood. The wasters were hesitant to send in their heavy vehicles. They had already expended nearly all of their tanks and APCs. They knew the convoy would have deployed more mines and the wasters were none to keen on discovering where they were.
The convoy on the other hand found themselves bottled in. Wasters on bikes and buggies sped back and forth along the highway, the back roads, and the open fields around the town. Fortunately, the wasters held their two M60 Pattons back for fear of losing them to the recoilless rifles and landmines that guarded the town.
Both sides withheld their fire as the day wore on. Scott called a meeting with the various convoy and escort leaders. They met inside an old fast food restaurant.
"Looks like we are under siege," Scott announced to the gathered group.
"We have enough stores to last us for some time," Ed, one of the convoy drivers, chimed in. "We even have a good store of ammunition. It's the manpower that concerns me."
"Maybe we should see if any of the locals will want to join our posse," Wrangler offered. Scott nearly broke into a laugh when the gangly man stepped out of his armored truck the previous night. The scout never noticed him before and he could not understand why. The man wore a cowboy hat, a western vest, chaps, and cowboy boots in the same Holstein print that matched his outlandish truck. It was a good thing Wrangler was busy cussing over the fact one of the horns on his Texas Longhorn mount broke off during the brief combat.
"How many locals have we evacuated to this side of town?" Scott asked Julia.
"A little over a hundred -- most are women and children," the large woman replied.
"Right, see how many men and women will be willing to defend their town," Scott continued.
"Do you think they were setting up an ambush with those tanks last night?" a short squat escort driver named Willy asked.
"I can only surmise two things: one is that they were setting a trap for us. However, I doubt that is the case. The second is a thought I really do not want to dwell on," Scott said.
Julia scorned hard at Scott, "Would you be willing to share that thought?"
"Just before we left Billings, I received word that the Anarchists were sending out forces to Minneapolis. The goal was to unite the local warlords and then try to conquer St Paul. My fear is if those tanks are here, then St Paul is already gone."
Silence hung over the group for several minutes before Willy broke the silence. "So we cannot expect any help from the east to lift this siege. Does General
MacKenzie know of this and is he going to send us some relief?"
Scott looked around the group again, "I'm going to level with you and this cannot leave this room. General MacKenzie knows the situation in the Twin Cities very well. However, before we left he had received orders to abandon Fort Billings."
The silence a few moments before suddenly broke into a raucous chaos of yelling. The various leaders started shouting and asking questions simultaneously. It took the hollering of Mad Momma's booming voice to restore order.
"Then we are as good as dead," Willy said before the menacing scowl on Julia's face forced him to swallow any further complaints.
Scott paced back and forth for a while before he turned back to the group.
"The radio tower is still intact and the Wrecking Crew owns a portable generator. With any luck we can send out an S.O.S."
"That is a long shot at best," Willy retorted. "The atmospherics don't allow us to send messages long distance."
"I know it is a long shot, but it is still a shot. Do any of you have any better suggestions?" Scott asked.
"Well, good buddy," Wrangler finally put in with a smirk on his face, "we cannot very well leave our Fort Apache here. Neither can we just stay here and wait for the cavalry to arrive. We need to get a message out somehow. I figure the radio is the best option for now. If things start to get really hairy maybe one of those scoot jockeys could race for the border with a personal appeal for help."
The leadership group finally broke up after they hammered out a few more details. Julia found that almost every man, woman, and many of the children were willing to join forces to defend their town. She did not know how many would stay once the shooting commenced but for now she gathered them in work details helping the convoy reinforce their fortifications.
The defenders attached the portable generator to the old radio station. Fortunately, the group boasted several electricians and in a short time, the station was transmitting an S.O.S. to the outside world. No one knew if anyone was even receiving it.
Scott surveyed the enemy forces gathered on the west side of town. The Anarchists still held the tanks and the APCs back. However, the one thing the Anarchists did not lack was people. Hundreds of vehicles from the ubiquitous buggy and motorcycle to the old sedan and pickup truck zoomed back and forth in front of the fortifications.
The sun was at its zenith when the Anarchists finally unleashed an assault on the West Main Street defenses. The wasters poured vehicle after vehicle towards the fortifications. The landmines hidden under the crumbled surface of the road destroyed the initial onrush of vehicles. The machineguns in the fire pits and on top of the trailers mowed down the survivors. The defenders continued to fire even when the noise of a loud rumble heading towards them echoed through the air.
"It's the tanks," one of the civilians screamed. Many of the civilians placed in the defenses on this side of the town started to abandon their posts and run as the thunder of steel treads loomed ever closer.
The rumble of steel treads on broken concrete grew closer. The convoy officers in charge of the town's southwestern fortifications berated and coerced many of the panicky civilians back to their posts. Once they were again ducking into their fire pits and trenches in front of the convoy trailers, many started to fire their weapons blindly.
This led to more cussing and berating from the officers until order returned. The silhouette of the heavy armored vehicles with many a buggy and modified car leading the way rumbled towards the defenders. The thick cloud of dirt roiled into the air behind the large force.
The veteran forces held their fire as the newly recruited civilians started to fire their weapons again. The bullets bounced harmlessly off the thick hide of the three APCs leading the new assault. The gunners on the trailers finally opened up with their twin .50 machineguns when the vanguard came within range.
The APCs halted and returned fire as the lighter vehicle poured around the metal giants and raced towards the fortifications. The officers finally gave the order to return fire. Bullets of all calibers zipped and popped back and forth. Occasionally, there was a thunk, as a round entered a body or the explosion of a waster's vehicle succumbing to destruction.
The APCs still held back and returned fire. The gunners worked their guns onto the trailers trying to sweep off the defenders. The trailers however were well constructed and the gun emplacements were well armored. Still a defender would fall to an enemy round from the M2 machineguns leaving only the wreckage of a body.
Smoke, fire, dirt, bullets, and mists of blood filled the air. From along side the road a 75 mm recoilless rifle protruded from a house. The round fired and struck an APC. The metal beast flashed into flames and the gunner disintegrated. However, an M60 tank pulled out from behind the burning APC and fired its main gun into the structure. The house collapsed and then burst into flames.
The Anarchists in the smaller vehicles made their way towards the fortifications. The slaughter they endured was great, but no matter how many the defenders mowed down another took its place.
Meanwhile on the east side of town and across the river, another battle was brewing. Anarchists were exchanging fire with the defenders from houses across the Sheyenne River. Some were trying to get boats into the water amidst the bullets of the defenders. Many sank before they left the shores.
The one bridge still standing on this front was the scene of a bitter and costly battle. The trailers with their gun crews mowed down waster after waster who tried to force a crossing. They could not use their vehicles for debris and obstacles were cluttering its span.
So, the Anarchists decided to dismount and try to take the bridge from the defenders on foot. The wasters soon found out that behind every obstacle a defender lay in wait to unleash his or her deadly arsenal. It was not long before the machineguns and rifles of a multitude of calibers riddled and pock marked the bridge.
Scott had chosen to bulk the majority of his green troops on the eastern fortifications. He figured that the wasters would concentrate on breaking through on the west. However, the ferocity and tenacity of the Anarchists on this front was more than even he anticipated.
Scott was in the middle of the defensive zone coordinating the defense of Valley City. He would relay orders over the CB radio in the Charger or he would send runners out to assess the situation. The center of the defensive zone was almost as chaotic as the battles raging on both sides of town.
"Sir," a convoy officer ran up to Scott. "The western forces are starting to break. We need reinforcements."
Scott looked over at one his runners, "Are the wasters attacking the north bridge from the interstate?"
"No, there are a lot of mines still in place on that section of road as well as the bridge."
"Good, grab half those people and have them join the secondary defenses on the western fortifications," Scott ordered.
Both the officer and the runner ran off towards the north. Another runner quickly ran up from the east.
"My God, look!" the young man panted as he pointed towards the eastern horizon. Over the tops of the buildings and houses in the east and between the black smokes of the burning debris rose a grey ominous cloud.
"The wasters are getting reinforcements!"
"Damn, we've got them beat in weaponry, ammunition, food and defensive placements," Scott cursed. "The one thing we don't have is numbers. They do, and they are using them to terrible effect." Scott slammed his fist down on top of the hood of the Charger.
Sam, standing next to Scott looked around from the various defenders. The look of defeat stared back at him. Even the scout appeared to be temporarily lost to despair.
"Well, we may not survive this, but we will sure make them pay," Scott determined. "Get the last of the escort vehicles to the secondary defensive fortifications on the western perimeter."
"Sam, get into the Charger," Scott snapped and the boy jumped into his seat and pulled on his helmet.
Julia looked over to Scott before she ran towards the Armadillo. "So Scout where are you heading?"
Scott shouted back as he climbed into the muscle car's seat, "I'm going to see what help I can lend to the east. I need you to coordinate and conduct our defensive plan to the west."
Before Julia could argue, Scott slammed the door and raced the scout vehicle to the river.
The black Charger pulled up to the last defensive trailer in the eastern fortifications. The scout jumped out of the car, leaving the engine idling with Sam operating the M60 machinegun. One of the defenders tossed down one end of a rope ladder that Scott quickly scaled.
Once on top, Scott found Willy surveying the horizon with his field glasses. The gun crews were poised and ready to unleash their heavy machineguns. So far, no one had crossed the river necessitating the use of the twin mounted M2s. There was no need for them to move fore and aft of the sideways-parked trailer.
Willy shoved Scott the field glasses. "We still are holding the river. I don't know how long we will be able to however.
"They keep coming and we keep repelling them. I'm amazed the civvies are not running yet."
"As long as we hold this side of the river I think they will stand pat," Scott said peering along the riverbanks with the field glasses. Then he brought them to bear onto the encroaching dust cloud of the vehicles racing towards them.
"I guess I better get back down there. The reinforcements are about to add their weight to the assault," Scott grimly replied as he returned the glasses.
Willy peered through the glasses again as Scott started to dismount the trailer.
"Wait," the convoy officer yelled. "Something strange is going on.'
Scott could hear the explosions as he returned to the top of the trailer. Willy thrust the glasses back into Scott's hands and pointed out to the horizon.
"Look!" was all he said.
Scott scanned the area where Willy directed and noticed new plumes of dark smoke drifting into the air. The new arrivals were tangling it up with the wasters. Scott focused the binoculars onto one of the vehicles it was a 1976 Sea Island green Mercury Cougar XR7 sport coupe. An M61A2 20 mm Vulcan cannon inside a fully rotating turret sat atop the roof. There was also its more compact cousin, the XM134 minigun mounted through the passenger side of the windshield. They were firing a barrage of death into the wasters.
Scott counted about six other vehicles racing along side the Cougar, each a different and unique armed vehicle. All were carving a deadly swath through the wasters. It was only a matter of a few minutes before the new arrivals had fought their way to the river.
In those few minutes, Scott made sure the defenders on his side of the river did not fire onto the third party joining the fight. Scott followed the maxim of "the enemy of my enemy must be my friend".
They Anarchist on the east side of the Sheyenne River quickly threw down their arms and either surrendered, ran, or died.
Scott sent a couple of his people out to guide the seven new arrivals across the 8th Avenue Bridge. The scout, while waiting for the new forces to cross, sent the majority of the defenders off to the west to reinforce Julia's command. He could hear the combat growing fiercer to the west.
The Sea Island green Cougar pulled up to the black Charger. A stocky middle-aged man stepped out of the vehicle. He wore glasses, an old T-shirt, a pair of worn shorts, and on his feet were a pair of sandals. He gave a big smile as he waved to Scott.
"We thought you could use some help here," the man said. "We heard your S.O.S. over the radio."
"Glad to have it. But who are you and where do you come from?" Scott replied.
"We are from St Paul. My name is Doug and Weston here is my gunner," Doug pointed to the smaller thin man sitting in the passenger seat behind the minigun cleaning his glasses.
Julia watched as the first line of defense crumbled under the new assault. The M60 Patton tanks made short work of the defensive trailers. The survivors from the first line of defense fell back to the second line. However, most of the civilians tended to bypass the second line altogether and just tended to run.
Even though she had received numerous reinforcements from the east, she still had too few people to stop the unending rush of Anarchists. There were still one APC and the two M60 Pattons relentless that pounded the defenses. Further, almost all the buildings were demolished and burning.
Worst of all, the recoilless rifles were either lost or out of ammunition.
"I thought St Paul had fallen to the Anarchists or the very least the warlords," Scott stated to the newcomers.
Doug smiled, "No, after your visit, we went to work. You'd be surprised what had been laying around in some of those factories. I'm glad we found those cannons to mount on the Cougar -- she's a classic.
"Anyway, by the time the wasters brought their tanks to the Twin Cities we had Minneapolis in our hands and defenses laid out. They lost a couple of their precious tanks in their assault. That sent them packing.
"Our small force here was to make sure they did not come back. That's when we heard your message on the radio."
There was a loud explosion to the west. Scott watched as a huge fireball mushroomed into the sky. Pieces of debris rained down from above onto the small town below. Scott also saw the first of the fleeing civilians running through the town.
"They got the warehouse where you had the prisoners store the contents of the trailers," Julia's voice blared over the radio in the Charger.
"Can you spring the trap?" Scott asked. He had purposely let one of the prisoners escape before he had the contents of the warehouse moved into a bank a few blocks down.
"All the recoilless rifles are gone," Julia continued. "The Anarchists are flooding in too thick and are effectively covering the tanks."
Scott frowned, his plan had been to lead the tanks towards the warehouse and then take them out. The only weapon now that could possibly stand a chance of destroying the tanks was the 25 mm Bushmaster on the Armadillo.
Scott looked again at the Cougar; the M61 Vulcan originally came from a combat aircraft. It was also possible that the 20 mm rounds could take out the old tanks.
"Doug, we could sure use your help," Scott said.
"Okily dokily, what you need us to do?"
"Well, we'll need you to take out some tanks," Scott replied.
"No way!" Weston said from the car. "Our 20 mm guns were made to take out aircraft and lightly armored vehicles not a tank!"
"You are all I've got," Scott responded hotly.
"Maybe we can take out their road wheels, they are aluminum," Weston mused allowed. "That is if we can deflect the turret low enough. Then they would be stuck."
"That's better than nothing," Scott conceded. "We'll give you an escort if your comrades want to join us."
The Armadillo and the Cougar progressed forward surrounded by Scott's Charger and the remaining escort vehicles from Billings and St Paul. The firefight still raged on both sides. The tanks fired their main guns at any buildings that may be hiding a person armed with an antitank weapon. Meanwhile the APC fired suppression fire at the foxholes and trenches obstructing the wasters' progress.
Lighter Anarchist vehicles buzzed back and forth firing their weapons at the remaining trailers and the convoy ground forces. Fire from buildings and destroyed trailers and vehicles blazed madly covering the air with thick noxious smoke. Bullets whizzed back and forth.
The flotilla of escort vehicles threw themselves into the midst of the Anarchists. The lighter escorts fought it out with the lighter Anarchist vehicles, most of the buggies and motorbikes were long gone by now. The Cougar made short work of the remaining APC. The personnel carrier belched smoke and fire from its bullet riddled side.
The Armadillo moved onto the first Patton as the main gun turned to meet the big rigs assault. Julia at the last possible minute weaved the vehicle to the side of the tank as the big gun fired into the empty air the big rig used to occupy. A distant building exploded as the errant 105 mm shell slammed into it.
The gunner on the Armadillo fired the Bushmaster into tanks treads. The steel tracks buckled under the onslaught of the 25 mm rounds. The Patton pulled forward only to leave its tread behind it. The tank now disabled and incapable of moving still contained its deadly guns.
Doug wove the Cougar through the wasters. Weston fired the front and top guns into the opposing vehicles. The Anarchists cars, trucks, and vans would almost literally dissolve as the 20 mm rounds fired in burst tore into them. In air-to-air combat, the Vulcan could fire 6,000 rounds per minute. The minigun could fire between 2,000 to 4,000 rounds a minute depending on the gunner's selection. On ground, these left only carnage in their wake.
Doug tried to maneuver the Cougar so that they could line up a good shot on the remaining tank's drive wheels. However, the wasters had picked-up on the defenders tactic and the wasters guarded remaining tank at all costs.
The tanks, though one immobilized, had finished taking out the semi-trailers. The twisted burning hulks of metal lay useless where they smolder. The entrenched defenders started to pull back. All that remained between them and the Anarchists were the charging escort vehicles.
Scott drove his Charger in between the circling wasters. Sam repeatedly fired the M60 machinegun, while Scott added his own firepower of the two .30 and .50 guns mounted to the front of the black scout vehicle. They left in their wake a line of flaming wreckage.
By the time the sun started to descend into the west, the wasters' numbers were starting to tell. Overwhelmed, the escort vehicles started to fall one by one to the deadly horde. Until only the most heavily armed vehicles remained. That left one 1970 Dodge Charger, one 1976 Mercury Cougar, and one modified Mack truck.
The three remaining escort vehicles wove in and out of the wasters through the ruined streets and around broken down buildings. The Anarchists protected the tanks while they tried to herd the escort vehicles so that the tanks' heavier guns could fire at them. The occasional blast rocked the small party as a 105 mm shell exploded where the defending vehicles had been moments before.
Scott felt the rounds from the .50 M85 machineguns on one of the Pattons
Scrape over the roof of the Charger. The M60 machinegun turret tore off from the top and one round punctured the roof. This round only lost momentum after it smashed into the windshield. The thick glass cracked and obstructed Scott's view.
The Cougar continued to lay to waste every Anarchist it encountered. Nonetheless, it could not make a run on the remaining tank. Fortunately, its thick skin continued to protect the driver and gunner in the "sea island green" car.
The Armadillo was struggling with a flat tire on the rear axle. The guns continued to unleash their deadly barrage. Another shot from the main gun of the immobile M60 tank fired. Its aim was off; however, it was close enough that when the ground exploded next to the Armadillo the blast lifted the big rig into the air.
As the truck slammed back to earth, the driver's side wheels landed on soft ground. The big rig slowly rolled over on its side like a dying prehistoric animal as it continued its forward momentum.
Dirt and debris piled up in front of the truck until it finally came to rest. The wheels in the air continued to spin as if of their own accord.
The guns on the Cougar were smoking but they had expended the last of their ammunition. Doug now started to ram any waster vehicle that got in his way.
More .50 rounds from the good Patton blasted into the Charger. Scott thanked the heavens that it was at an oblique angle and only managed destroy his rear camera and put a couple of holes into the trunk. The scout flipped a switch and the front camera came into play on the static filled monitor to help Scott navigate his way through the wasteland that once was the west side of Valley City.
It looked like everything was lost. The Cougar was out of ammo, the Armadillo was down, and the Charger had little left to give. To make things worse there was still one M60 Patton on the prowl and there were no weapons left to destroy it.
Scott noticed that they had taken their toll on the wasters as well. Almost all the buggies and motorcycles lay destroyed. All the APCs were now burning wreckage as well as a great number of Anarchist vehicles. Plus, only one tank remained with mobility.
Sadly, that did little to raise Scott's spirits. After the Anarchists won the battle, they would round up any surviving civilian and make them slaves. The wasters would outright execute any of the convoy crew they captured. Even though the Twin Cities became reunified and free of the warlords, the northern route, which the United States needed, would remain closed.
With the only vehicle with any offensive capabilities, Scott decided he could make one last run at the remaining tank. It might be possible he could take out the drive wheel with his .50 caliber machineguns. However, the back of his mind told him that it was highly unlikely.
Scott weaved the Charger in between two Anarchist vehicles that headed towards him. He clipped them both as he passed. The heavier inertia of the Charger propelled the two lighter vehicles out of control in opposite directions. One smashed into the burning debris of a convoy trailer. The car rapidly went up in flames before the occupants could evacuate. The second car ended up flipping upside down and coasted into the basement of a destroyed house.
Scott found his prey. The M60 had stopped a few yards before the Armadillo and the main gun was traversing to aim at the stricken truck. The scout was approaching at a right angle, he watched in horror as the gun swung towards the big rig.
"NO!" Scott yelled as he depressed the triggers to the four machineguns mounted on the Charger. The bullets pounded harmlessly into the body of the tank. Nonetheless, Scott continued to fire. The sun finally slipped behind the horizon and in the deepening blue of the impending night, an explosion rocked the night. The Charger hit by the concussion veered into the remains of a buggy coming to a dead stop.
Scott lifted his head. He must have blacked out for a short while after his collision with the upturned buggy. First, Scott looked over to Sam. The boy sat hunched forward unmoving in his seat. Scott frantically shook the eleven-year-old boy.
Sam shook his head and removed his helmet. The boy looked over at Scott and smiled. Scott was relieved. Then the scout remembered the events that let up to his crash.
"Oh my God!" exclaimed the scout when his memory returned. Scott looked out his cracked windshield and saw the burning wreckage of a large vehicle. Smoke filled the air with its acrid tang.
"I can't believe you did that," Sam said staring out the windshield.
Scott felt like screaming at his son that he did not have anything to do with the death of the Armadillo. Then he saw it. The burning vehicle was not the Armadillo but the M60 Patton.
"That's not possible..." he started to say when another loud explosion rocked the town. Scott tried to reverse the Charger but it was stuck fast with the wreckage of the buggy.
"Stay here," Scott ordered Sam as he climbed out of the Charger. The burning of the tank, wrecked vehicles and the western part of Valley City illuminated the night sky. Scott peered around and to his surprised further down the road sat the burning carcass of the other M60 tank.
The Sea Island green Cougar pulled up to the Charger and stopped. Doug and Weston jumped out to stand next to Scott.
"Can you believe it?" Doug exclaimed. "It would have been nice to have some A-10 Warthogs, but three helicopters will suffice in a pinch."
Scott then realized that above the cries of the wounded and the crackling fires the thump-thump of chopper blades filled the night air. He looked up to see three silhouettes hovering above in the deep blue sky.
"Looks like a couple of Cobras and an Apache up there," Weston said, glaring into the sky.
"Boy, those wasters sure took off after their tank went up," Doug added.
Scott felt tired, very tired as the adrenaline of the day's fighting suddenly left him. The scout sat back down into his car leaving the door open.
"Do we know how many survivors?" Scott asked.
"Well, in case you are wondering, me and the girls are all right," the booming voice of Mad Momma McGee said as the large woman and her crew walked up.
The occasional rattling of machinegun fire continued off in the distant night air. More survivors started to approach the Charger. It looked like more people survived than Scott had figured. The battle was so long and terrible he was surprised anyone lived.
"The bank?" Scott feebly asked.
"Its fine," Julia replied. "Looks like your plan worked after all. The cargo is safe."
Scott weakly nodded and smiled.
"What are your orders?" Julia asked.
Scott ran his hand over his head. "Well, first we need to start gathering the wounded. We will also need to make sure these fires don't spread. Finally, we need to find as many surviving Anarchists before the civvies do. I'm afraid that they may feel compelled to exact their own justice."
"Why shouldn't we let them do that?" Julia asked with burning hatred.
"Because they are now part of the United States and they need to follow its laws," a man stepping out of the shadows said.
"Cut it a little fine didn't you, Mac," Scott said.
"Hey, I thought I heard the request for a cavalry over the radio and the cavalry always arrives in the final reel." The man said as he stepped further into the firelight.
"General MacKenzie!" Julia exclaimed. "We heard Fort Billings was abandoned."
"It was," the general explained. "We had top secret orders to capture Sturgis. I'm sorry Scott but we couldn't even let you know. If any of your convoy fell into the wrong hands before we were ready the game would be up.
"As it turned out Fort Meade and much of Sturgis was unoccupied by unfriendlies. I guess they were more interested in your little party.
"So after securing Sturgis I felt maybe we could lend a hand out here. Sorry, we couldn't get here sooner."
Scott laughed, "Better late than never."
Scott's expression finally turned serious, "What about Van Dyke and the missile he was excavating.
The general smiled, "We have both in custody. By the carnage out there I think we don't have to worry too much about the wasters in this neck of the woods."
The occasional shot still echoed in the distant night. "My boys are still mopping up after your operation. The corpsmen are already going amongst the wounded," the general added.
"You didn't happen to find Taylor did you?" Scott asked.
"If you want to search the many corpses out there be my guess; however, we did not capture anyone yet claiming to be him. I have a feeling he was in one of those tanks." The general paused for a minute and looked towards the growing crowd of people.
"Once again, welcome back to the United States of America," General MacKenzie said.
Doug, Weston, and the citizens of Valley City all rent the air with their loud rejoicing. The convoy personnel all joined in on the back slapping and laughing. Shortly afterwards, it started with one person, and then another, which grew until everyone was singing the 'Star Spangle Banner'.