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Old 03-29-2020, 10:26 PM
sharkman6 sharkman6 is offline
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There was another Easter Egg of sorts right at the very start of Chapter 8 either nobody caught or nobody mentioned if they did.
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Old 04-03-2020, 07:53 PM
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That was a great chapter. Thanks man
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Old 04-08-2020, 02:41 AM
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Default Chapter 38

Livin on the road my friend, was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron
Your breath as hard as kerosene

Pancho and Lefty, written by Townes Van Zandt

Colt stood tall and proud, with his rifle slung across his chest, and all around him, the ruined fortress of the Pale smoldered. Soot, blood, sweat, and smeared camouflage paint stained his face. Columns of smoke twisted upward from the destroyed houses and outbuildings. Here and there, small grass fires still burned. And all around lay the bodies. Shot and shattered and blown apart, dead Pale lay everywhere. The sun had barely risen and already swarms of black flies buzzed about the compound. Scattered between the bodies was spent brass. In some places, like around the Quad-Fifty, it stood in mountains.

There were live bodies too. Colt's team rescued the enslaved women from their subterranean dungeon. They'd rescued the captive children too. True to his boast, Doc revived the drowned child through a combination of good CPR and a greater miracle. Now the rescued women and children huddled together and awaited their uncertain future. There were captive Pale too. Corralled and under guard, they did not speak.

Beside Colt stood Eldra. No longer flirtatious and coy, she now burned with anger.

"This wasn't our deal. This isn't what I asked for," Eldra said.

"You wanted us to free your hostage. We freed your hostage, and these Pale won't be taking any more of your people hostage ever again."

Eldra surveyed the damage. She rolled her big, bedroom eyes and shook her head.

"You've saddled me with a humanitarian crisis. I wanted my hostage freed. Mine. Not all these others." She gestured towards the freed captives, each finger tipped with blood-red polish. "What am I supposed to do with them? I know you aren't going to take them."

Colt chewed on a blade of grass, spat, and said, "I expect you'll take them in. That or outfit them and send them on the road again. Although, I doubt they'll last long on the road. Not in their current condition."

"No, they won't," Eldra said with a heavy dose of venom. "They've all been raped to insanity and drugged out of their minds. The kids too, probably. What the hell am I going to do with a whole gang of drugged-out basket cases? The merciful thing would be to shoot them all now and put them out of their misery.

"I wouldn't do that," Colt said.

"Oh no? Is it like that now? You're calling all the shots?"

"I'm calling this one," Colt said. "I don't like the idea of tolerating evil, and given that I'm a Spartan Knight, with a whole team of Spartan Knights, I don't have to tolerate it. We sure didn't tolerate it from these Pale."

Eldra looked around the compound at all of this young Spartan's companions. The old one and the one with one arm lazed beside the machine gun trailer. They stood there just a touch too lazily. The medic was on another side of the compound. He was shaving, but he was keeping one eye on Eldra and her men. The big one stood beside the rescued women. He held one of her Lewis Guns at the low ready. Nicky-Lee guarded the prisoners, and the short and dirty one she couldn't find at all. All were spread out all over the compound. All of them eyed Eldra and her guards warily. Even Cora, her hair mussed and sweaty, eyed Eldra with caution. Eldra was no dummy. She saw this wasn't a fight she wanted.

"What the hell am I going to do with these refugees?"

"You're looking at this the wrong way. The Pale are gone. You own these mountains now. And you own a working hydroelectric dam and a machine shop. And now those machine guns too. Before the summer is over, you can be running everything from here to Lake Tahoe. In two years, you can be Queen of the entire Central Valley."

"I don't want to be Queen of the Central Valley. That's how you get noticed by New Sparta, speaking of which, I want you all out of here. If they notice you here, then they'll notice me, and I don't need that."

"We're ready to go when you are."

"The trucks are on their way down," Eldra said. She pointed at the prisoners. "Does your heart bleed for them too?"

"They're rapists and child murders. They get what they get."

"Be ready to go in five minutes," Eldra said. With that, she stalked off towards the prisoners. Some of her people fell in behind her. As she left, Lefranc ambled over to Colt.

"She seemed a bit less flirtatious than normal."

"She's miffed because she's getting saddled with all the refugees from the tunnels."

"Boo-hoo," Lefranc said. He winced, grunted, and sat down on a nearby pile of firewood. Colt could imagine the sound of the older man's joints creaking.

"You did the right thing, killing all these Pale ****tards. Now she can do the right thing and help clean up the mess. Hell, we just gave her the hostage plus the whole damn mountain to boot."

"I'm just glad she didn't try and double-cross us."

"Not yet, anyway. I've got Robins pulling all the drive springs outta those fifties just to be safe. We can hand them over when we're safe in this Jefferson place. Hopefully, he can manage with one hand."

"I'm sure he can manage," Colt replied. "You should have seen him in the house with that sub-gun of his. He wiped out a whole squad by himself."

"Having one arm doesn't seem to slow him down," Lefranc said. "You ever wonder why the Crown Prince tagged him along on this lashup?"

"I did," Colt said. "But I don't anymore. He's here, and he's proven himself, several times over."

Lefranc looked over to where Cora sat, alone with her rifles. She looked downcast.

"What's with you and Brown-Eyed Girl over there?"

Colt sat down next to Lefranc on the woodpile and said, "She wasn't completely honest with me."

"Some girl you just met out here in the Apocalypse, where it is all murder and rape and every man for themselves, she wasn't honest with you. Huh. You don't say."

Colt pointed up at the Pale's golem. It was the only thing in the compound that made it through the battle unscathed. "She knew what they did at their little ceremonies. She knew they were going to murder all those kids, and she knew when we saw it, we'd tear this place apart."

"Well, good for her," Lefranc said. Colt shot him a look. Lefranc went on.

"We're just tourists. She lives out here. If anybody had a right to destroy these slavers, she did. We were the only chance she was going to get for that. Good for her for getting them all killed off, even if she did use us."

"I got no problem killing who needs to be killed. I just don't like being duped into it. I also don't like the fact that she put all you at risk as part of her power play."

Lefranc clapped Colt on the shoulder. "Stop with the moral outrage. We're all in this as much as you are."

Colt nodded, then looked up at the face of the Pale's golem. He thought it looked like the carved faces of Easter Island. "What do you suppose that was all about."

Lefranc shrugged. "Who knows. Something dumb. It doesn't matter now, I guess." The old sniper turned, looked over his shoulder, then spun his head back around and said, "It looks like you aren't the only one with girl troubles."

Ajax approached them tentatively, his face flushed bright red. The source of his embarrassment was clear. A woman, one that they'd pulled out of the tunnels, followed just one step behind him. The moment she'd been set free, she latched onto the big machine gunner and followed him like a shadow. He couldn't shake her or shoo her away, even though he tried. Whenever Ajax stopped, she reached out and tried to take hold of his free hand, a move the big man clearly was not comfortable with.

What made the scene even more amusing was that this girl was almost as big as Ajax. She stood well over six feet tall, and even though undernourished, she was still broad at the shoulders and the hips. Blonde hair, dirty and knotted, hung halfway down her back.

"She picked the biggest one of us and claimed him as her own," Lefranc said in a whisper.

"She must have gone through hell down in those tunnels," Colt whispered. backs. "It was medieval down there. Can't say I'd blame her for wanting a protector."

"A girl that big shouldn't need a protector," Lefranc said. "If we had another machine gun, I'd let her carry it."

Ajax stopped a few feet from Colt and Lefranc. His face was candy apple red. When he stopped, the girl stopped too. She reached out and took hold of Ajax's hand. The big man jumped at her touch and brushed her hand away.

"You two go together like peas and carrots," Lefranc said with a grin.

"She won't leave me alone," Ajax said. "She's been following me around like a puppy dog all morning."

"Does she have a name?" Colt asked.

Ajax looked at the girl. "She doesn't speak," he said apologetically. "Not so much as a word."

"Probably too traumatized," Colt said.

"Well, what do I do?" Ajax pleaded. "She won't leave me alone."

Colt and Lefranc looked at each other. The older man shrugged.

"Well," Colt began. "I can only imagine what she's been through. They kept her locked up in a no-**** dungeon for who knows how long. If you make her feel safe, and if she wants to follow you around, why not. After all she's been through, maybe she deserves to feel safe, at least for a little while."

"How safe can she be with us?" Ajax asked.

"She'll be safer with us than any other creature on earth," Lefranc offered.

Ajax looked left, then right, then leaned in towards the others conspiratorially. The big man seemed to try to make himself smaller, as if he was embarrassed to ask the next question. That, plus the big man's bright red flush, made Ajax look ridiculous.

"But if they find out I'm fraternizing with a Gomorrah woman, I'll be in real trouble."

"What?" Lefranc asked.

"Back in New Sparta. Fraternizing with Gomorrah women is against regulations. If they find out about it back in the Emerald City, I could get in real trouble."

Lefranc snorted out a laugh. Colt smiled.

"Ajax, don't worry. I think we're way beyond that now."

"But…"

"You'll be alright, big man," Lefranc said. "Why don't you help Robins with the fifties. Take your friend with you."

As Ajax departed, Christian approached. He held a dirty pillowcase full of loot, and his uniform was in tatters. Part of his collar had ripped free and fluttered at his neck. He'd worn a hole in each trouser knee, and the crotch was ripped out. The seat of his pants hung in a flap. But as always, he was in good spirits. Beneath the layers of dirt and soot on his face, he had the same foolish grin.

He looked from Ajax and his new companion to his leadership, then to the other freed women, then back to his command again. He grinned, then jerked his thumb in the direction of the liberated women.

"Hey, so does this mean we can pick out…"

"No, it does not," Lefranc said curtly, cutting him off. "So, don't even ask."

"****, man. No fair. Big Boy got to rock the Quad-Fifty, and now he gets the girl too."

"He's not getting anything, so knock it off."

Christian shrugged, grinned, then opened the pillowcase up to reveal a bevy of pistols, knives, jewelry, ammunition, and other loot.

"I figured I'd grab the best stuff before Witchy-Witch and her people got down here and took it all. I imagine we aren't taking the Quad-Fifty with us?"

"It’s a little big."

"That's a shame," Christian said. "I never even got to fire it." He rummaged through his pillowcase, then came up with a few pistol magazines and some thick, squat cartridges.

"Here you go, Master Guns. Some reloads for your pistol."

"Thanks," Lefranc said, taking the gear. "Most of the pistols you have look like ****. But we'll take every round we can get."

"No ****," Christian said. "Ajax is outta machine gun ammo. We've got no grenades left and no rockets. Just a handful of carbine ammo between the lot of us.

"Got something special for you too, boss." Christian reached into the pillowcase and pulled out a war hammer with a spiked head. "I found this sticking outta some guy's skull. I'm guessing that was your handy work."

"Yeah," Colt said, remembering. "Guy tried to go hand-to-hand on me with it."

Christian offered the hammer to Colt. Colt looked at the dirty grenadier like he was crazy.

"What am I going to do with this?" Colt asked. He took the hammer but eyed it skeptically.

"You're gonna bash people with it, of course."

"I can't imagine needing to bash so many people that I'd have to carry a hammer around. You keep it," Colt said, passing the hammer back.

Christian held his hands up in refusal. "I'm not the offspring of The Hammer, you are. Keep it. It will enhance your post-apocalypse warlord persona."

"I neither need nor want a persona," Colt said. He took a practice swing with the hammer. It was well balanced, and the heft of it felt good. Still. "It feels like I'm holding a swagger stick. I hate swagger sticks."

"Quit being difficult," Christian said. "It makes you look like a bad-ass. Like Alexander walking around with that black arrow. Plus, you beat somebody with it, you'll feel really good."

"Alright," Colt said grudgingly. "I'll hang onto it for now."

"We'll be heading out soon. See if you can scrounge up some food," Lefranc said to Christian. He nodded and took off. Once the little man was out of earshot, Lefranc turned to Colt.

"You did good, Sir. You did real good."

Colt smiled. "Thanks, Master Guns."

Two trucks pulled into the compound through the smashed gate. They threw up dust when they stopped. Tailgates dropped, and soon Colt and his companions loaded into the back with all their gear.

Before they left, Robins pointed at the golem with his one hand. "Check it out," he said.

Two of Eldra's largest guards carried John Pale to the foot of his golem. His legs, shattered by Christian's grenade, dragged along uselessly along the ground. They all watched as the guards chained the Pale Chieftain to the base of his monolith. That done, red fuel cans came out. John Pale screamed and pleaded for mercy as he and the golem he sacrificed innumerable children to, were doused in fuel. Then Eldra came out.

Her cape fluttering behind her, Eldra drew out a road flare. She struck its red end alight, let it burn for a few moments, then she tossed it onto the golem. John Pale, slaver, rapist, kidnapper, torturer, and the murderer of children, wailed. He wailed until he stopped, and the flames climbed up and devoured the golem.

Eldra marched back to the truck, her hair and cape tossed by the wind. Her formerly coquettish demeanor now stern. She took one look into the back of the truck, locked eyes with Colt, and said, "Time to go." Cora, rifle in hand, swung into the cab of another truck and slammed its rusty door shut.

The trucks drove back out the gate. From the beds, Colt as his companions watched the golem burn out of existence.


Lions

Inside the command center back in the Emerald City, Lions watched the two trucks leave the compound and head deeper into the mountains.

"Sir," an operations clerk interrupted. "The drone is bingo for fuel. If it doesn't head back to refuel now, we're going to lose that one too."

"We have anything else on station?" Lions asked. His voice was mechanical. His eyes never left the video display.

"We have more inbound, but there would be a gap in coverage."

"We'll sacrifice this one too," Lions said. He didn't know whose fortress now burned on the big screen. What he did know was that with nothing more than a reinforced fireteam, The Colonel's kid flattened the compound and destroyed all resistance in a matter of minutes.

"When will we have that Morning Star available?" Lions asked. His eyes didn't waver from the screen.

"A few more hours," the clerk answered. Lions only nodded in reply. Greylick was pushing to get a Morning Star on station and operational. Lions heard that the resupply mission had hit some snags, that they'd lost an astronaut. He didn't know if that was true, but he didn't need to know. That was Greylick's business. Chief Marshal Gorman's agenda was his. Sacrifices would be required from everybody.

"Stay on them," Lions ordered. "Let's see where they go."

He had a wild idea of where they were going. He wanted to be sure.
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